A24’s “The Zone of Interest” is spoken in German, but was filmed in Poland and is written and directed by a British auteur. So what does that mean for its prospects for best international feature at the Oscars?
Written and directed by Jonathan Glazer, “The Zone of Interest” premiered last week at the Cannes Film Festival where it emerged as an early favorite for the coveted Palme d’Or after receiving widespread acclaim.
The film tells the story of a commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), and his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) who strive to build a dream life for their family in a house and garden next to the camp that was one of the sites where six million Jews were murdered.
In the past few years, it seems as if more non-English language features are being submitted that aren’t spoken in the country’s native tongue. The crime thriller “Holy Spider,” nearly entirely spoken in Farsi, and the animated documentary “Flee,” in English, Danish, Dari, Swedish and Russian, both represented Denmark, for example.
Per Academy rules, a film can be selected as a country’s entry as long as it’s financed by producers or companies from that country, and/or has a majority of its crew members from there. Cannes lists the film as a U.S., U.K. and Polish production.
In the case of “Zone,” the film was equally financed by A24, which is handling U.S. theatrical distribution, with U.K. based production companies Film4 and Access Industry. Jim Wilson, one of the film’s producers, is British, as well as director Glazer. Ewa Puszczyńska, another producer is Polish, and her involvement helped secure contributions from the Polish Film Institute, which could offer the pathway as Poland’s entry. Selecting the country that will submit is still under consideration, according to distributor A24.
The film’s only tie to Germany itself is that it is spoken in German.
The U.K. has irregularly submitted for international feature since 1991, putting forward 18 films in the 32-year span. Of those, just two have secured noms – 1993’s “Hedd Wyn” and 1999’s “Solomon and Gaenor” – both spoken in the Welsh language.
The U.K. submission is chosen by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. If it were to go that route, “Zone” would be the first film in the German language to represent the United Kingdom.
Each country has a different process for choosing its selection, a process that’s often fraught with politics and controversy.
Hirokazu Kore-eda made his way back to the Croisette this year with his beautifully moving “Monster,” after last year helming the audacious “Broker” with Song Kang-ho. However, the movie faced an impossible obstacle to overcome in order to have a shot at international feature Oscar recognition. South Korea would not select a film helmed by a Japanese filmmaker, while conversely a movie in Korean would be an impossible choice for Kore-eda’s native country. The Neon film was virtually shut out of the awards season, despite critical acclaim.
“The Zone of Interest” won’t only angle for the international feature prize. It’ll be one of A24’s top awards priorities this upcoming awards season, which will also include Celine Song’s “Past Lives,” as well as possible other entries. The studio is coming off a sweep of every major Oscar category last year that included the best picture winner “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
All this chatter about U.K. submitting had me wondering – if U.K. can submit for Oscar in international feature, can the U.S. submit for the BAFTA Awards?
The answer is “yes,” but not as the sole “representation” for the United States as there is no official submission committee. U.S. films have managed to receive five BAFTA noms in the best film not in the English language category, although some were shared with other countries. They were Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “A Very Long Engagement” (2004), Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” (2006), Angelina Jolie’s “First They Killed My Father” (2017), Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” (2019) and Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari” (2020). None were winners. Coincidentally, the latter two were also distributed by A24.
At the moment, even without knowing which country will put it up for the category, “The Zone of Interest” has established itself as an early front-runner for best international feature.