Daily life in a delightful country house and the horrors of Auschwitz: when history is (also) told through design, at the cinema ​

The Zone of Interest is a film by Jonathan Glazer loosely based on the novel of the same name by Martin Amis (Einaudi).

It is the story of a wealthy German family who lives a daily life made up of boat trips, Sunday fishing and a routine marked by the father's work commitments, the mother's teas with friends and the children's schooling. A life like that of many others.

Except that the family is that of Rudolf Höss, commander of Auschwitz, the place where the events take place is not Germany, but Poland, to be precise the suburbs of Oświęcim, or rather the area of interest, interestengebiet in German, that area of 40 square kilometers immediately surrounding the Auschwitz concentration camp complex.

But here the distance is further reduced: the garden of the Hösss' delightful villa borders the concentration camp wall. We are one step away from horror, immersed in the most disconcerting banality of evil, in an apparent serenity that everything can disguise except noises (and night terrors).

The narrative proceeds along two tracks that intersect perfectly under the direction of Glazer who wanted to play on the form. The style is that of a reality show, with fixed cameras scattered throughout the house and garden, so that the actors could experience the space and not act in it.

The director defined him as Big Brother in a Nazi house. Shot and reverse shot, in the classic way, continue to tell the story by presenting the contrast and amplifying it in a disturbing way.

The two tracks, on the other hand, are the visual one and the sound one: there are two films at the same time, one to watch and one to listen to, with a terribly philological design to guide the two proposals.

There is a visual film, supported by the meticulous and extraordinary work of the set designer Chris Oddy, who made possible a perfect reconstruction of the apartment of the Nazi commander's family with a very effective immersive.

The true history of the Höss in the area of interest begins in 1937, the year of construction of a grey, square and essential house right next to the gates of Auschwitz, which will be enlarged and renovated in 1940, when it enters family possession: a floor will be added, the interiors will be redone and the garden will come to life.

That house still exists, but it is currently inhabited and despite the owners' willingness to rent it for the filming of the film, Oddy chose a house not far away, with the same orientation towards Auschwitz, but abandoned, so as to being able to recreate everything and give the actors a new home, just like it was in the years in which the events narrated in the film take place.

The interiors are very well looked after: light wallpaper, lots of light coming in through the windows, little furniture but in the fashion of the time and a beautiful herringbone floor.

Not only that, Oddy also managed to find some original furniture left by the Höss family, chairs and a wardrobe in particular, but everything in the scenography is new and functional.

An important trait to tell the story of the era and the mentality of the family: «Things had to do their duty, they had to function efficiently», explained the set designer in an interview, «the house had to be essential, without excess. And after four months of work we created a perfectly livable house."

Functionality becomes obsessive in the routine of the inhabitants, especially the adults, who describe the precision of the death machine just behind the border wall with apparently harmless and everyday gestures.

But those beautiful bright windows overlooking the garden, Mrs. Höss's pride, show the camp's control tower, show the fumes from the crematorium ovens that dye the sky red at night, and the labyrinthine basement of the house , where in the evening the commander who controls them is lost to close an infinity of part to protect his loved ones, they seem like the prisons of an ancient and never concluded story.

And then there's the film to listen to. An exceptional work developed by Johnnie Burn, a sound designer who has been collaborating with the director for some time, who managed to narrate death without ever showing it. Its noisy carpet captures the viewer's attention (and stomach) and never lets go.

The abyss is there, in the mix between the sounds coming from the extermination camp and Mica Levi's composition, disruptive and dark, almost breathing to open up in moments of absence of the footage, to then leave room for the swarm of sound disturbances, a continuous and subtle bass of barking, screams, threats, shots, moans, combustions, horror.

This is what Burn designed: the noise of Auschwitz. A long research allowed him to compose a library of exact noises, created on the basis of more than a year's research on weapons, on the noises of crematoriums, on the testimonies of survivors. The world adjacent to the Höss house is entrusted to this story: we see nothing of life in the concentration camp.

A shock. Or rather, a sound that is almost impossible to get rid of, even after watching the film. And then there are the black and white nightmares of a little girl who can't sleep. Or maybe it's not just her: the anguish takes shape in an overexposed black and white and her sound beast gives it voice.

A work of art film, worth seeing.

Jonathan Glazer, The Zone of Interest, with Sandra Hüller and Christian Friedel, Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and now nominated for an Oscar, in cinemas from February 22nd.