The Oscar category for Foreign Films is one of the more complicated categories to judge because it contains such a very rich diversity of international film. A record 76 entries were received this year. The filmmakers present their stories in their own language, painting a world steeped in their cultural sensibilities, bringing a diversity of expression to the Hollywood Film scene that is refreshing and exciting. It is almost impossible to select a best film and ultimately more than one is outstanding. Past winners include; France’s film ‘Amour’ (2013), Iran’s ‘A Separation’ (2012), and Denmark’s ‘In A Better World’ (2011). See this year’s shortlist of 9 Foreign Film nominees here.
Last year’s Foreign Film Oscar nominees stole the limelight in the weeks leading up to the Academy Awards.
The Nominees all with English subtitles:
‘The Great Beauty’ Paolo Sorrentino, Italy
‘The Hunt’ Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark
‘Broken Circle Breakdown’, Felix Van Groeningen, Belgium
‘The Missing Picture’ Rithy Panh, Cambodia
‘Omar’ Hany Abu-Assad, Palestine
Who will win: The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)
Who should win: The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)
Belgium, “The Broken Circle Breakdown,” directed by Felix van Groeningen
Belgium’s entry, “The Broken Circle Breakdown”, Flemish with English subtitles, is a deeply touching love story with a good dose of tragedy and realism. a melodrama which asks “Can Love conquer all?” This is director Felix van Groeningen’s 4th feature. He gained recognition at Cannes in 2009 with The Misfortunates, which went on to be an indie hit in France and the Netherlands. The film is based on a play by multi talented Johan Heldenbergh, who stars as Didier in the film, a banjo player in a popular bluegrass band. Elise played by Veerle Baetens is a free spirit, a tattoo artist and a singer. The country music soundtrack of the film is central to the telling of the story and “Will The Circle Be Broken” is available from itunes. Well edited flashbacks to tell the story. Be prepared to cry. Well edited flashbacks help to tell the story of heartbreak when the lovers are suddenly faced with the sacrifices demanded by a child whose life is in danger. A brilliant film but up against one that is even more remarkable from Italy which seems well poised to win the Oscar. Belgium’s last Oscar nominee (2012) was “Bullhead” starring Matthias Schoenaerts.
Italy, “The Great Beauty”, directed by Paolo Sorrentino
The Great Beauty “La Grande Bellezza” is at once a poetic snapshot of Rome and a meditation on the meaning of life. Expertly directed by Paolo Sorrentino, this gem of Italian cinema is a visual feast. Part Fellini, part Baz Luhrmann, insightful and engaging, The Great Beauty is a character study interspliced with humor and a refreshing self awareness. Beautiful cinematography, an exceptional performance from Toni Servillo, it is no wonder this film is cleaning up in Best Foreign Film Awards and nominations. The Great Beauty received the Golden Globe for best foreign film and has been nominated in the same category for an Oscar.
“The Great Beauty” looks at celebrity, excess, love, power, possessions and ultimately happiness and evaluates it all through the harshly satirical, knowing eyes of Jep Gambardella and the voyeur – you. It is extravagant, rich, mocking and elegant. Set in Rome, Italy during the Berlusconi Years, It rings so completely true with the audience today we feel it must win the Oscar. We had the great fortune to meet up with the director Paolo Sorrentino at TIFF and get a few insights about the movie. What an Italian charmer! Interview with the director Paolo Sorrentino here and full review here.
Palestine, “Omar,” directed by Hany Abu-Assad
This gripping thriller, winner of the Un Certain Regard Award, Cannes, by Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad is a revelation about circumstances in the explosive geopolitical war zone claimed by Palestine and Israel in the Middle East. In interviews about the Palestinian issues covered in the film “Omar”, Abu-Assad talked about the deliberate and cruel division of Palestinian cities by the Israelis so that walls divide families and friends and create ghettos. Refugee camps and villages are divided arbitrarily. People live under extreme conditions of poverty, constant occupation, war and destruction. The system pits people against each other and builds distrust and fear. Neither the Palestinian Authority, the RAMI or the Egyptian government are respected or trusted in this geopolitical war zone where families live out their existence. Social unrest is at a boiling point in a place in the world were many political agenda’s seems to have a stake. This movie is a record of an historical point this region of the world is going through, told powerfully through the eyes of the people living it.
This movie raises the profile of what it means to be Palestinian in the Israel versus Palestine battle in the Middle East, a point of view Westerners are not as familiar with. It also presents the transformation that war and its deprivations, has on the human soul. Who can you trust? Who do you really know? How does prison, torture, deprivation, being held hostage, isolation, atrocities to self and family and religious beliefs change a person under these circumstances – the very ones that define the middle east, Afghanistan, Africa, North Korea, and any area of the world in a state of war. Will this movie win the Oscar? Most likely not, but its very presence on the list of nominees means the world will know a lot more about these wars.
Cambodia, “The Missing Picture,” Directed by Rithy Panh
Rithy Panh is an internationally celebrated documentary filmmaker best known for his remarkable movie “S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine” (1989) about his personal experiences with Cambodian Refugees, of which he was one. His new movie “The Missing Picture,” uses clay figures, archival footage, and narration by Randal Douc, to recreate the atrocities Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge committed between 1975 and 1979. Panh was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia but at the age of eleven (1975) he was held in the dreadful “Khmers Rouges” rehabilitation camps. He escaped to Thailand at fifteen in 1979 and arrived in Paris a year later where he took up studies at the French National Cinema School. This new documentary has already won international acclaim was screened at the 51st NYFF, Cannes 2013 winner Un Certain Regard Prize. It deals with the horrible reality of genocide. Over 2 million people were eliminated in Cambodia. Panh recreates a past of which no picture record was kept, using hand made, painted clay miniature figurines, which stand for the regime’s victims. ‘People say, that their souls will wander all over the earth.’
Rithy Panh has spent years trying to come to terms with the atrocities he witnessed and survived during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. His remarkable animated movie “The Missing Picture” uses clay figures and archival footage to create the archive and transport the viewer to the realities of genocide. Very few records existed to confirm these events and convey its spiritual and physical human price. See exhibit ROM Canada.
Such a visual archive is tremendously powerful and recognition at the Oscar’s is immense in bringing the story to an international audience. “The Missing Picture” is the winner of several international awards including Cannes ‘Un Certain Regard’ 2013.
Denmark, “The Hunt”, Thomas Vinterberg
“The Hunt”, starring Mads Mikkelesen, directed by Thomas Vinterberg, is a disturbing tale with universal implications and resonance. A young girl falsely accuses a man of sexual misconduct and in doing so brings his life to a halt, and tears a peaceful, loving community apart family by family. A powerful tale but unlikely to win the Oscar because of its uncomfortably dark implications, especially when luminaries in the filmmaking industry such as Wood Allen, are currently under such suspicion. See full review here. The Hunt is also nominated for a BAFTA and which is Thomas Vinterberg’s second BAFTA nomination.
– Moira Romano