Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Oscar Update: The Foreign Language Film Shortlist

Below are the 9 films selected by the Academy for eligibility for the foreign language film Oscar this year. Five of these will be nominated come February 2nd. Commentary follows the films.

Argentina - “El Secreto de Sus Ojos,” Juan Jose Campanella, director;
Australia - “Samson & Delilah,” Warwick Thornton, director;
Bulgaria - “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner,” Stephan Komandarev, director;
France - “Un Proph├Ęte,” Jacques Audiard, director;
Germany - “The White Ribbon,” Michael Haneke, director;
Israel - “Ajami,” Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, directors;
Kazakhstan - “Kelin,” Ermek Tursunov, director;
The Netherlands - “Winter in Wartime,” Martin Koolhoven, director;
Peru - “The Milk of Sorrow,” Claudia Llosa, director

There are no real shocking omissions here. Really, only A Prophet and The White Ribbon would have stunned me had they been left off.

I am VERY disappointed however that Korea’s brilliant film Mother and Romania’s equally brilliant film Police Adjective did not make the list. Neither film were locks for making this shortlist, and there were indications that they could not (the Academy has for some reason not embraced either country recently, despite the renaissance both countries film industries have experienced in the last decade). As a Canadian, I was also disappointed that our entry, the highly acclaimed I Killed My Mother, failed to make the list. I expect these three films to get the bulk of the complaints for being left off the list. But now, let’s look at the films that did make it.

Argentina’s El Secreto de Sus Ojos (or The Secret of Her Eyes) was directed by Juan Jose Campanella (a well known TV director in American), whose film Son of the Bride was nominated in 2001, so watch out. The synopsis makes this sound like a thriller – or actually more like an episode of Cold Case. However, it did sweep the Argentinan equilvalent of the Oscars this year, winning all 9 categories it was nominated in.

Australia’s Samson and Deliah was directed by Warwick Thornton, a relative newcomer. It has been great reviews all year, starting with it’s winning the Golden Camera award at the Cannes Film Festival back in May. I expect the critics to get behind this story of two aboriginals. Not sure if the Academy will bite though.

Bulgaria’s ungainly titled The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around Every Corner was also directed by a relative newcomer, Stephan Komandarev. The story centers around a Bulgarian man who lives in Germany, and gets a case of amnesia. His grandfather comes to pick him up, and the go on a cross Europe trip for the young man to rediscover himself. Sounds like the type of foreign film that makes me pull my hair out in boredom, but which the Academy eats up.

France’s A Prophet is an absolute masterpiece – a film that would have ranked very high on my top ten list this year had it been released in North America (don’t worry, my top ten list will debut next week, and I will not forget about this film for my 2010 list). Director Jacques Audiard has placed himself in another realm with this violent prison story, and I would love to see this win, unless…

Germany’s The White Ribbon by director Michael Haneke wins instead. The other film on this shortlist I have seen, Haneke’s film is one of the best of his career – a methodically paced examination of the roots of terrorism set in a small German town in 1914. This is a masterpiece as well. If this an A Prophet don’t get nominated by the Academy, there will be hell to pay.

The Israeli film Ajami by directors Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani has been winning awards at festivals around the world all year (it got a special mention at Cannes for the prize that Samson and Deliah won). The film is set in the poor, Arab neighbourhood of Ajami in Tel Aviv, and tells five different stories in a neo-realist way. Sounds like they were trying to recreate Paisan. Neo-realism normally isn’t the Academy’s thing, but this one could get in.

The inclusion of Kazakhstan’s entry, Kelin, has to be seen as somewhat surprising, given that it is the first film by director Ermek Tursunov, and because unlike the rest of the films included here, hasn’t been winning prizes at festivals all year long. The film centers on an arranged marriage, that starts off well, and then goes downhill. I doubt it will make the final five, but you never know.

There always seems to be at least one WWII film on the list, and this year that goes to The Netherlands entry, Winter in Wartime by director Martin Koolhaven. The film centers on a 13 year old boy who becomes involved in the resistance in the waning days of the war, and discovering the differences between fantasy and the harsh realities of war. Could be a great film, but it doesn’t exactly sound all that original, does it? No matter, I bet it gets in anyway.

Finally, from Peru comes The Milk of Sorrow, from director Claudia Llosa, making only his second film. The film has won a string of festival prizes, most notably taking the top honors at this year’s Berlin festival. The movies sounds strange (the lead actress is suffering from a disease called The Milk of Sorrow, which is caused by breast milk of a mother who was abused or raped during or just after pregnancy). However, you can’t argue with success, and this movie has had a lot of it so far.

For the record, my predictions in this category are now:
1. The White Ribbon
2. A Prophet
3. The Secret of Her Eyes
4. The Milk of Sorrow
5. Winter in Wartime
Spoilers: Samson and Deliah, Ajami.

I would be shocked if Kelin or The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around Every Corner broke into the top five – which of course means, one of them surely will.

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