The Zone of Interest: How Big Brother Techniques Brought Auschwitz to Life

The Zone of Interest

The Zone of Interest, a film about the family of the Nazi commandant of Auschwitz, has been nominated for five Oscars, including best picture. The film, directed by Jonathan Glazer, uses a fly-on-the-wall technique to show the contrast between the horrors of the camp and the mundane life of the family next door.

A hidden crew and fixed cameras on the set of The Zone of Interest

Glazer, also nominated for best director and best adapted screenplay, said he borrowed techniques from reality TV shows like Big Brother, where participants are filmed without visible camera crews but with fixed cameras that capture their every move. He said he wanted to create a sense of eavesdropping on the family without using conventional filming methods such as close-ups or dramatic music.

The Zone of Interest

He said he used ten remotely operated cameras while he and the crew watched from a nearby bunker. He said he shot the film with natural lighting and used the sounds of the camp, such as screams, gunshots, and smoke, to hint at the atrocities happening behind the concrete wall that separated the family from the prisoners.

The Zone of Interest

“The idea of eavesdropping felt like the way to show the drama – although there is no drama,” Glazer said. “It was a way of being in the house with them.”

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Based on a novel and actual events

The film is based on the 2014 novel by Martin Amis, which was inspired by the real-life story of Rudolf Höss, who ran Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945, and his wife Hedwig and their five children. Höss was responsible for using Zyklon B to gas prisoners, and an estimated 1.1 million people were murdered at the camp, one million of whom were Jews.

The film stars Christian Friedel as Höss and Sandra Hüller as Hedwig, who calls herself the “Queen of Auschwitz.” The film shows how they live in a spacious house with a garden, where they have friends over for coffee, celebrate birthdays, and play with their children while ignoring the suffering of the people in the camp.

The Zone of Interest

Friedel said portraying Höss was an “intense” experience and that he had a panic attack while filming in Oświęcim, near the original house and camp. He said he felt a responsibility towards the victims and that he visited the camp for the first time as a human and as an actor.

I was sitting in a cafe in Krakow. I was alone, and I had one day off. Then, I had a panic attack,” Friedel said. “My body, like in the movie, reacts and says, ‘There’s too much darkness inside you. Be healthy. That’s not good.’

Critical acclaim and controversy

The film has received critical acclaim and won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival last year. It has also been nominated for nine Baftas, including Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actress for Hüller, and nominated for another film, Anatomy of a Fall.

The Zone of Interest

However, the film has also sparked controversy and criticism from some Holocaust survivors and groups, who said it trivialized the genocide and portrayed the perpetrators as sympathetic. They also said the film was inaccurate and misleading and that it did not show the true extent of the brutality and evil of the Nazis.

Glazer defended his film, saying he did not intend to humanize or justify the Nazis but to show the reality of how they lived and how they rationalized their actions. He said he wanted to restate the proximity of the Holocaust and challenge the audience to confront the moral questions raised by the film.

The Zone of Interest

“The reason I made this film is to try to restate our proximity to this terrible event that we think of as in the past,” Glazer said. “But, no, it’s not in the past. It’s about now.”

The film is available to watch on A24’s streaming platform. The Oscars ceremony will take place on Sunday, March 10.

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