‘The Zone of Interest’ Is Oscar’s 1st Best International Feature Winner From the UK

“The Zone of Interest” made Oscar history on Sunday as the first film from the United Kingdom to win the award for Best International Feature. The prize is awarded to the nation of submission, though it was accepted by director Jonathan Glazer (who gets to take home a statuette).

Glazer’s stark, acclaimed Holocaust drama, starring Sandra Hüller and Christian Friedel, is set in Nazi-occupied Poland and features dialogue in German and Polish. So how did it win the Oscar for the U.K. and not Germany or Poland?

That’s because eligibility for the category is determined, among other factors, by the country that produces the movie. According to Academy rules, the submitting nation must confirm that creative control of the film was largely in the hands of citizens or residents of said submitting nation. And since 2006, the submitted film does not need to be in an official language of the submitting country (which would have disqualified “The Zone of Interest”).

“Zone,” based loosely on an English novel by the late British author Martin Amis, was financed largely by British production company Film4 and directed by Glazer, a London native. Though his nationality was not essential: Japan’s nominee in the category, “Perfect Days,” was directed by German Wim Wenders, though his cowriter and producers were Japanese.

Only the United States (and its territories including Puerto Rico) are ineligible from submitting a film for the International Feature category. “Zone” marked the third nomination from the U.K., after two of Welsh language entries, 1993’s “Hedd Wyn” and 1999’s “Solomon and Gaenor.” Of the 20 titles submitted by the U.K. since 1991, Glazer’s film is the first in the German and Polish languages.

With the U.K.’s win, the country also becomes the first nation without a previous win to score the award since South Korea won for “Parasite” in 2020. Italy, with 14, and France, with 12, are the winningest nations.

“Parasite,” of course, was also the first film not in English to win the Oscar for Best Picture. The five total nominations for “Zone,” including for Best Picture, illustrated the film’s broad support across the Academy’s whole membership, which surely helped its campaign in the International Feature category.

Five of the last six winners in this category were also Best Picture nominees: “Roma,” “Parasite,” Drive My Car,” “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “The Zone of Interest.” The trend goes back to 1969’s “Z,” the Algerian thriller which was nominated for Best Picture and won Best International Film.

And notably, in the International Feature category, “Zone” is the second film set at the Auschwitz concentration camp to win the award in the last 10 years. Hungary’s “Son of Saul” (2015) took place within the death camp’s walls, though stylistically the two film’s could not differ more. “Son of Saul” was shot almost entirely in close-ups, while “Zone” features not a single one. And “Zone,” set mere meters from the camp, is deeply unsettling for Glazer’s bold decision to never visually depict the horror inside the walls.

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