First foreign Oscar submissions

Posted by · 6:49 am · August 27th, 2010

I was waiting for news of these to begin trickling in… in my memory, the flood of official submissions for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar usually begins earlier than August. Anyway, we’re there, so expect a lot more of these updates between now and October 1, the Academy’s formal (if not entirely inflexible) deadline for participating countries to enter their films.

The first three confirmed entries come from Taiwan, Romania and Iraq — the latter two countries awaiting their first nominations in the category, while Taiwan seeks to return to the race for the first time since its sole win, with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” a decade ago.

The most high-profile of the three is Romania’s pick: Florin Serban’s debut feature “If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle,” was one of the few critically embraced Competition titles at February’s Berlin Film Festival, where it scooped the runner-up Silver Bear prize. As is my wont at festivals, it seems, I missed it both at Berlin and at Edinburgh, though I’ve heard glowing reports from colleagues of the film, a character study of a teenager, on the brink of release from a detention center, whose rehabilitation is disrupted when his neglectful mother re-enters his life.

(More, including trailers for all three films, after the jump.)

It should be said that the country had a relatively tough choice to make: their other options included “Aurora” and “Tuesday, After Christmas,” both of which played in the Cannes Un Certain Regard strand to general acclaim. (I was less enthused.) In particular, I thought the latter film, a sensitive, precisely etched marital drama, had what it took to break the country’s duck in this category — though I should have known they’d pick the contender I haven’t seen, just to punish me.

Most would agree Romania is somewhat due for recognition in this category, the Academy having thus far ignored the country’s much-vaunted new wave of filmmaking — in recent years, critically beloved entries like “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” “Police, Adjective” and, most controversially, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” have all failed to crack even the Oscar shortlist. The deliberate pacing and mordant tone of much new Romanian cinema is a taste voters have yet to acquire, and I’m not sure if the reportedly bleak “If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle” is the film to change that.

Meanwhile, Taiwan isn’t exactly following a safe formula for Oscar success by selecting “Monga,” a 1980s-set gangster epic as their pony. (Their initial pick, the youth romance “Hear Me,” was declared ineligible by virtue of its too-early release date.) The film also played Berlin, apparently, though I confess it didn’t cross my radar. Knowing little about the film beyond what is shown in the trailer below, I can’t comment on the wisdom of the choice, though I’ll admit my fingers were crossed that another Berlin entry, Arvin Chen’s delightful “Au Revoir, Taipei,” might get submitted — even if Chen’s American nationality made that somewhat unlikely.

Finally, Iraq’s submission is “Son of Babylon,” which was warmly received at both the Sundance Film Festival, where it competed in the World Dramatic strand, and, again, the Berlinale. (Guess what — I missed it. I did watch some films at Berlin, honest.) This one sounds rather more up the Academy’s alley: a road movie of sorts, it follows the journey taken by a young boy (check) and his stoic grandmother (check) in search of his long-lost father (check), following the fall of Saddam Hussein. Reviews feature recurring adjectives like “heartbreaking,” “devastating” and “well-intentioned”; partially funded by both the Sundance Institute and the now-defunct UK Film Council, this could be one to keep an eye on.

Check out the films’ respective trailers below. We’ll do our best to keep you updated as more submissions are announced; like last year, Kris will soon set up a separate page where you can follow the growing list. International readers, feel free to update us with news of your own country’s selection procedure.

(Thanks to Nathaniel Rogers for the tip on “Monga,” and to Chris Bourne for the link to the film’s trailer.)

[Photo: SBS Films]

→ 13 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

13 responses so far

  • 1 8-27-2010 at 6:59 am

    Glenn said...

    I heard stunning things about “Son of Babylon” out of the recent Melbourne film festival (where the director actually asked for the film to be withdrawn due to silly international politics).

  • 2 8-27-2010 at 7:29 am

    Sieben said...

    If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle is stylistically a bit different from most of the Romanian new wave’s most acclaimed entries. It’s not quite so bleak and deadpan – although still, I think, quite inaccessible. Very low on narrative. I can’t see the Academy going in for it.

    I always enjoy hearing about foreign film submissions, good to hear that they’re starting up.

  • 3 8-27-2010 at 8:50 am

    Joseph said...

    Awesome; great trailers.

  • 4 8-27-2010 at 10:25 am

    Pete said...

    Those of us who follow this category are grateful for Kris’ doggedness in tracking down the submissions as they come to light.

  • 5 8-27-2010 at 1:06 pm

    Alex in Movieland said...

    oh, my, I feel like this post was written for me :P [kidding, but there’s a lot of Romanian info anyway]

    the thing is I haven’t seen any Romanian movies lately. We don’t enjoy our own and it’s quite clear we have different perspectives on them than foreigners have.

    I actually expected Aurora to get the representation vote, considering it’s Cristi Puiu, but i see they got tricked by the Whistle, a film I honestly have NO intention of seeing. Don’t imagine it to be A Prophet. Someone who saw it told me it’s so unpleasant to watch and they throw in swearing every 30 seconds just as an attempt to impress (which you’ll probably won’t read in the subtitles). It was suggested to me that it’s lame all around.

    if 4 months (which I really liked) didn’t make it, nothing will.

  • 6 8-27-2010 at 2:17 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Aurora” would’ve been an unwise choice for Oscar consideration, whether one likes the film or not — the Academy wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.

  • 7 8-27-2010 at 3:51 pm

    Michael W. said...

    Denmark has shortlisted three films for submission (don’t really know why…). The films are “Submarino” (in competition in Berlin), the prison-drama “R”, which features a lot of amateur actors (even real life inmates I think) and Susanne Bier’s (who was nominated for After the Wedding) “In a Better World” (it is going to Toronto next month).

    So now the committee will watch the films and discuss and they will make a decision on September 23rd. I fully expect it to be R or In a Better World. They have both received great reviews. The overall word on Submarino wasn’t that great and I’m kinda surprised it is shortlisted. If In a Better World does well at Toronto I could definitely see that being submitted. But R would be a very interesting choice.

  • 8 8-27-2010 at 4:43 pm

    Ali E. said...

    If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle is just not very good. The first half is very promising, but the second is totally out of focus, even hollow. It stands no chance. But that trailer for Son of Babylon looks very promising.

  • 9 8-27-2010 at 6:22 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Michael: I reviewed “Submarino” here. It’s a letdown — no chance the Academy would fancy it. Thanks for the info.

  • 10 8-28-2010 at 9:23 am

    red_wine said...

    I agree that Romanian cinema much celebrated now across the film festivals of the world is due some academy recognition. Police Adjective and 4 Months are personal favorites from their recent wave.

    If I were to put forth the single most appealing aspect of the Romanian new-wave, it is the delibrate unhurried story-telling and most of all the virtuoso long takes that they crank out with ease. I admire few things more than long takes in film-making.

    In American cinema today(with its pathetic and irritating obession with quick cuts), if there’s a 3-4 minute take, it becomes a point of discusion and articles are written about it but these Romanian guys manage to make entire movies solely composed of long takes. You gotta love them.

  • 11 8-28-2010 at 2:02 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Long takes that are utterly lethargic and meaningless. Give me something that WORKS, don’t just throw it at me because it’s “artsy” and “cool.” Pretentious as hell.

  • 12 8-28-2010 at 3:37 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I agree to an extent — the long take can be a stunning device when character and narrative shift and develop, however subliminally, within the shot. (“4 Months” being a beautiful example.) But this school of cinema can get a bit of a free pass from critics even when the technique isn’t being used to particularly revealing or imaginative effect; I disliked “Aurora” because, for much of it, Puiu appears to be wilfully extending fairly prosaic scenes for the sake of exercise, rather than building them from the inside out.

  • 13 8-31-2010 at 7:58 am

    Stevens aborka said...

    “son of babylon” a masterpiece movie … for this kind of movies oscar was made..a must see movie believe me