Archival Images & Production Designer On The WW2 Drama’s Historical Accuracy

The Zone Of Interest foregrounds sound to portray the horrors of the Holocaust — namely, the events happening in and around the home of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss, whose family lives next to the camp. The horrid cacophony coming from Auschwitz is essential to understanding just how constantly human suffering is denied by these people celebrating their existence as idyllic. But the production design is just as critical. Without the commitment to historical accuracy, which grounds the audience in the material reality of 1943 Poland, it might be easier to compartmentalize the viewing experience as fiction.

Screen Rant spoke with The Zone of Interest’s production designer Chris Oddy about his work on bringing the film’s set to life from archives to the outskirts of Auschwitz. Oddy is a long-time collaborator of Glazer’s, having previously worked with the director on his 2013 film Under the Skin. Throughout the conversation, he explained the myriad of considerations made to ensure that The Zone of Interest was as historically accurate as possible. Alongside exclusive images from the film, Screen Rant can present images from the Höss family archives provided by the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History that show this extraordinary work.

Creating The Höss House Interior

Focused around the Höss family, the bulk of The Zone of Interest takes place inside their Auschwitz-adjacent home. The actual Höss family villa, as it was called, is still standing today. “John [Glazer] visited first and was really quite set on trying to use it,” Oddy said, explaining the location scouting visits that took place in 2018. When he took his own visit, however, he did not see the space as viable due to “the age of the property and the things that had happened to it since the war.”

So, Oddy and Glazer initially strode further away from the site, searching for any house that might fit their specifications. They were looking to “find a similar candidate anywhere in Poland that shared a similar landscape or layout between river and location,” and at one point they were even open to building their own replica home from the ground up. Throughout all this, Oddy explained that the “proximity of everything” — from the river, the camp entrance, and its walls — “was the most critical thing” in creating the unnerving atmosphere that becomes so vital to the final film.

I think on a second visit, [Glazer] had visited this house that was just about 200 meters down from the real house, thereabouts. In a real sort of state, [it] hadn’t been lived in since the ’80s. And [it] was empty and relatively derelict […] I went inside and realized what an undertaking it was and measured it up. And we sort of returned back home[….]

Once back in the UK, John and I carried on working on the film. And I kept sort of developing ideas of how to bring that house as close as I could to the real house. And I think central to this really was the need to try to make it happen there. Because there’s just such an atmospheric payoff from the point of view of being able to get the actors and all the crew and the environment actually within the zone, so adjacent to the camp.

They had found a house to use for the film, but The Zone of Interest team had one major problem: there was only a single archival photo available of the inside of the Höss home. Still, Oddy was determined to “try to make it happen there” because of the set being situated so close to the actual Auschwitz. There were a number of images available of the house’s exterior, but their limited reference point for the interior made it such that they would have to find other research avenues to ensure the interior’s accuracy.

The house used in
The Zone of Interest
was the home of the Polish girl who is seen hiding food throughout the film.

To fill in these archival gaps, Oddy took use of every resource he could: floor plans, lasting pieces of furniture from the Höss home, and “accounts from the Polish girl who cleaned for them in her diary.” He was able to see the actual furniture, which he and his team created replicas of. Rather than use the actual existing, time-torn pieces, the copied furniture aimed to evoke a sense of newness, since, as an upper-class Nazi household, the real-life Höss family “had their choice of what they got” during wartime.

At the start of the war, it was as Hedwig says in the film, a flat roof building. It was a bare brick construction, so they replastered it, and they put the elevation of the third story on it, the roof on it. So, all of that work led to plans and within those plans, obviously I could see the layout of the rooms. I could understand the way the house was used when it was built. And lots of details that are in the real house, like the way the iron railings are on the stairway and little bits of detail that I could see around the house that were original tent pegs I put in the ground to arrive at the design for our house.

It was a combination of that and [a] certain National Socialist Nazi aesthetic and an imagined reality in some ways built against what I knew of the furniture that was in there, because some of that furniture still survived. So I was able to visit that furniture because its existence is known. So some of the furniture in the house is a copy of what was originally in there, but built such that it is new. Because it was really important that everything be relatively new, or certainly a fine example of itself, because the Hoss’s had their choice of what they got, they could take whatever they wanted from whoever in the locality.

Leaving The Höss Bedrooms: Creating The Garden From Archival Imagery

After the grand undertaking that was recreating the house’s interior, The Zone of Interest team was tasked with constructing the rest of the Höss villa and the scenes that take place beyond the property. Oddy had a lot more archival imagery to go off of when working on the exterior scenes. Several elements in the final film, including the swimming pool, picnic table, and toy car, are lifted directly from these images.

One of the most vital aspects of the Höss villa was the garden, which Hedwig is seen attending to throughout the film. The general aesthetics of the garden could be witnessed through the archival photos themselves, but seeing as accuracy was tantamount to The Zone of Interest, additional research was required to align the plant selections with the flora growing in 1943. “[I took] a forensic kind of loop on [existent species at the time so] I was able to detect what some of those plants were,” Oddy explained.

The layout of the real garden was something I stuck to. It was very important to me to repeat the location of the garden walls that the Höss family had built and Hedwig had built, and their interruption to the camp wall, which was obviously always there in the real garden.

As crucial as the Höss villa was, a number of scenes throughout the film leave the house to portray other places throughout Poland and Germany. Finding “areas of Poland around the zone that were devoid of 20th century evidence was one sort of quite tall consideration” for Oddy. After settling on locations, it was important from a design perspective to make sure to distinguish the Höss residence from the outside world, as the team worked on “building site elements for the evenings” that resembled “civil engineering kind of projects really taking away the fauna to reveal the rough ground.

“Try to Make It Now Not Then:” The Effect of The Zone of Interest’s Design Choices

As the final question in the interview, Oddy was asked what he would like audiences to take away from The Zone of Interest. The production designer responded that “from a design perspective, the intention was to make sure that you felt like it could be now.” While being “historically correct” was vital, equally important was the evocation of something “extremely present” that avoids the sense of “looking back into history books.

It was key to give it a kind of 20th century eye or 21st century eye in regards to sort of thermal cameras and so on. And it was all, in essence, really to try to make it now not then.

Through the recreated, state-of-the-art 1943 furniture, vibrant garden, and more, The Zone of Interest achieves this sense of immediacy. The design elements merge with the film’s well-crafted script and the use of technology like thermal cameras to lend the period film a modern lens. As the final scene flashes forward to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum as a sort of premonition for Rudolf Höss, it acts as an ultimate, chilling reminder that the distance between the 1943 era of Nazi fascism and here and now is not chasmic, but miniscule.

The Zone of Interest

is now playing in theaters.

Zone of Interest 2023 Movie Poster

The Zone of Interest

The Zone of Interest is a historical war drama by writer-director Jonathan Glazer. Set during World War 2, the film follows Rudolf Höss, the commandant of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, as he tries to build a dream home right next door to the camp.

Release Date
December 15, 2023

Jonathan Glazer

Christian Friedel , Sandra Hüller , Ralph Herforth , Luis Noah Witte , Johann Karthaus

105 Minutes

Jonathan Glazer

Film4 , Access , Polish Film Institute



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