Three more join the foreign Oscar fray

Posted by · 3:50 pm · August 22nd, 2011

With the deadline for submissions not even six weeks away, expect a number of posts in this vein before then; for now, however, the number of formal entries for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar has swelled to a modest five.

While the first two in the game, Greece and Poland, were reasonably high-profile contenders — the latter’s entry, in particular, sounds like something of a perfect Oscar storm for this category — the most recent three are rather less prominent. Romania, Morocco and Venezuela are all angling for their first ever nomination in the Oscar race.

Of the three, Romania’s running duck in this race is perhaps the most surprising. The Academy has remained wholly resistant to the country’s critically hailed cinematic renaissance in the last decade; indeed, the snubbing of Palme d’Or winner “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” was one of the final straws that prompted a new voting system in the category. It’d be just like the Academy to finally relent for a film low on the radar, so perhaps Marian Crisan’s “Morgen” could be the one.

The film, which was a big winner at last year’s Locarno Film Festival, is reportedly a gentle drama about the growing friendship between a Romanian-Hungarian security guard and the Kurdish illegal immigrant who asks him for help in getting across the border. It sounds like the kind of cross-cultural human interest material the Academy sometimes goes for; that the Romanian selectors chose it ahead of “Aurora,” Cristi Puiu’s grim, lavishly acclaimed (though not by yours truly) endurance test from last year’s Cannes lineup, suggests they may be wising up to this game. (Fun fact: the film was released locally on 1 October 2010, making it eligible for this year’s race by a single day.)

Immigrant issues are also at the center of Morocco’s entry, “Omar Killed Me,” which tells the true-life story of a Moroccan gardener questionably imprisoned for murder in southern France in the early 1990s. Reviews from the film’s recent French release are highly encouraging (read The Hollywood Reporter’s flat-out rave here), while fans of the Oscar-nominated twins “Days of Glory” and “Outside the Law” will be pleased to find actors from those films both before and behind the camera: the excellent Sami Bouajila stars, while Roschdy Zem directs.

The last film to take on the French penal system, Jacques Audiard’s higher-profile “A Prophet,” scored a nod from the Academy. Might France have her thunder stolen in this category by a former North African colony — for the second year in a row? This could be one to watch.

By contrast, I can find little word online for Venezuela’s submission, Alejandro Bellame Palacios’s “The Rumble of the Stones” — which, as its rather clunkily literal title implies, touches on the catastrophic landslides that afflicted the country in 1999, following the story of a family made homeless by the disaster. The film was apparently a big winner at the main local film festival; beyond that, if any readers can furnish us with further insight, please do so.

While we’re here, a few other countries have teased out the announcement of their own eventual submissions by revealing shortlists of the titles being considered. We know, for example, that Israel’s choice — to be determined, as usual, by their national film awards — is down to five films, including Cannes Best Screenplay winner “Footnote.” (I wasn’t a fan.) Hong Sang-soo’s “The Day He Arrives” is one of six films vying for South Korea’s bid, while current title-holder Denmark has three to choose from, including a formidable-sounding contender in domestic drama “A Family” — winner of the top prize at the LA Film Festival, as well as the Berlinale FIPRESCI award.

Finally, Mexico has announced a longish shortlist of 12, but they’ll have me to answer to if their final selection isn’t Gerardo Naranjo’s Cannes hit “Miss Bala,” a breathtaking, all-guns-blazing underworld drama that will resurface at the Toronto and New York fests, and currently has a foothold on my year-end Top 10. More on that later; for now, fingers crossed.

[Photo: indieWIRE]

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22 responses so far

  • 1 8-22-2011 at 4:12 pm

    Dana Jones said...

    Guy, I am no expert on the Oscar Foreign Film category so excuse my lack of understanding or inexperience, but has India submitted a film? I feel as though they churn out great films year after year but fail to get any Oscar recognition, especially after the loss with ‘Lagaan’.

  • 2 8-22-2011 at 4:26 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    They haven’t submitted one yet, though they no doubt will do so. It’s rather staggering that the largest film industry in the world has only produced three nominees in the entire history of this category — and as you correctly recall, none since “Lagaan” ten years ago.

    So far, only the five countries mentioned in this post — Greece, Poland, Morocco, Romania and Venezuela — have formally submitted films, but we’ll keep you updated. (I’ll create a separate page soon with a running list of entries.) So glad you’re interested.

  • 3 8-22-2011 at 4:53 pm

    Dana Jones said...

    Thanks Guy, looking forward to it.

  • 4 8-22-2011 at 5:25 pm

    m1 said...

    It’s quite easy to guess the film that will win this category. If Sony Classics is distributing it in the U.S., then it will win.

  • 5 8-22-2011 at 5:33 pm

    Andrej said...

    Here is a Globovision article about Venezuela’s The Rumble of the Stones and its selection. Aside from some thankful comments from director Alejandro Bellame Palacios by having his second film selected, here’s a translated excerpt describing the film itself.

    “After a deep and lengthy debate, the Comittee concluded that ‘The Rumble of the Stones’ is a mature film, well directed, of a dramatic structure at the service of emotions. It’s a melodrama expressing a country and proposes, without any sensationalism, two impactful themes within the venezuelan reality: violence and the living needs. And in between, the future of a youth seemingly caught in a conflictous crossfire.

    The comittee president stated it’s a film that doesn’t forget the recurrent concern within venezuelan cinematography, which insists, without any reiterating intentions, on bringing the attention on those stories risen from poverty, from a matriarchal society of absent fathers and the young victimized by violence.

    The film’s photography recreates the inner neighborhood’s imagery, registering in silence the protagonist’s point of view: a young woman, a single mother, devoted to save her family, a woman carrying a tragedy, and despite of it all, she doesn’t want to give in.

    All the dramatic netting is held by a solid-working cast: two actresses and two young actors who manage to give to the story body and tone.

    It’s an emotionally overwhelming film with an open ending, fleeting from unceirtanty and offering a breath of hope”.

    The film will premiere in Venezuela this september 30th. Apologies for any dodgy-looking english!

  • 6 8-22-2011 at 5:48 pm

    keylime said...

    eagerly anticipating miss bala (especially after your twitter comments). mexico typically goes for the film with the highest international profile so it stands a pretty good chance. it’s supposedly getting released in the u.s. on october 14.

  • 7 8-22-2011 at 5:57 pm

    Squasher88 said...

    Guy, you saw Skoonheid at Cannes right? I was wondering how much of the dialogue is in Afrikaans? Maybe it will be South Africa’s submission?

  • 8 8-22-2011 at 6:11 pm

    Armando said...

    Guy– You can find some info about El Rumor de las Piedras here:

    Here’s the trailer:

    Haven’t seen it (…and I don’t think I will).

  • 9 8-22-2011 at 6:13 pm

    Armando said...

    El Rumor de las Piedras (The Rumor of the Stones) = The Rumble of the Stones

  • 10 8-22-2011 at 10:54 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    m1: Yes, which is one reason I’m already betting on Poland’s entry, “In Darkness”. Holocaust! Name director! Sony! It can’t miss. (Well, of course it can, but… you know.)

  • 11 8-22-2011 at 11:12 pm

    will said...

    I’m really waiting to hear what Norway decides. I’m hoping for Oslo, 31 August by Joachim Trier. I was such a massive fan of Reprise, and I’d be overjoyed if that movie made it to the U.S. somehow.

  • 12 8-22-2011 at 11:15 pm

    via collins said...

    Lots of “Reprise” love here as well.

    Excellent first film, just needed some luck to get screens. Big year for Norway, “Happy Happy” is in there too!

  • 13 8-23-2011 at 1:13 am

    Arundhati said...

    This is in response to Dana’s question about Indian films in the oscars. I’m Indian, and while there are several great filmmakers in India, most of them belong to a certain “arthouse” fraternity. Their films are what you could probably call indie, and are rarely viewed by mainstream (urban) audiences.
    Bollywood’s glamorous musicals- which try to be as far removed from reality as they possibly can- find audiences easily; it’s the small-budget movies with powerful character actors that fail to find a mainstream audience. Another big issue is the great diversity of India- Hindi is the most widely spoken language, but there are great films that get made every year, which are in other tongues, like Marathi, Bengali, Malayalam and Tamil. These movies are seen only by a few from the particular linguistic community, and again, don’t find a wide space in which to market themselves.
    Aamir Khan, producer of Lagaan and also it’s lead, is a super star here. His marketing team is probably the most capable group around, and they have managed to sell every single movie the actor-producer has churned out over the last decade.
    His tactics have ensured that as many as 4 out of the 10 films that have been submitted by India to the oscars in the last decade have been his.
    None of these films have ranked close to being the “best Indian film” of their respective years, and very often, they have been reflective of Bollywood’s naive attempts at “offbeat cinema”.
    The movies that India submits tend to be backed by powerful, influential people with popular support and political clout.
    The National Film Awards, India’s Oscar equivalent, are definitely more indicative of the great cinema this country can produce.
    Of the recent spate of Indian films, I particularly recommend ‘Adaminte Makan Abu,’ and ‘Udaan’.

  • 14 8-23-2011 at 3:53 am

    SebReuber said...

    While I do agree with you, that A Family sounds great, it got average to good reviews here in Denmark.
    One of the other candidates, Dirch, opens thursday and the first review has been outstanding (6/6 stars). Being a biopic, it might appeal to some of the AMPAS-members, but on the other hand it’s about a danish comedian who’s quite unknown outside the Danish borders.

    On the paper, A Family sounds like our best bet for a nod, but if Dirch keeps turning in rave reviews in the next few days, the jury is probably going to pick that one instead.

  • 15 8-23-2011 at 5:10 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Squasher88: I did, and it’s excellent. The dialogue felt to me quite evenly weighted between Afrikaans and English — the characters move fluidly between them, often in the space of a single conversation, as many South Africans do — so it’s a tricky case. I suspect someone’s going to be sitting with a stopwatch.

  • 16 8-23-2011 at 7:41 am

    Squasher88 said...

    Yeh, I suspected there would quite a bit of English. I really regret not attending the Durban Film Festival where it got a good response (I study in Cape Town). They also screened Tree of Life, Midnight in Paris, Nader and Simin, Circumstance and a bunch of other interesting titles.

    Nader and Simin won the Best Feature and seems like a really strong candidate for Iran if they submit it.

  • 17 8-23-2011 at 8:29 am

    Raguabros said...

    Can’t wait to see what Colombia chooses. It’s between LITTLE VOICES (animated documentary), THE COLORS OF THE MOUNTAIN and GREETINGS TO THE DEVIL

  • 18 8-23-2011 at 8:52 am

    Maxim said...

    I don’t know if Guy or anyone who’s been following the Foreign Oscar race over the years can answer this, but, I was wondering if there is any statistical or historical precedent for submissions that are announced early (relative to the other countries) performing bettter in the race than those that were announced late.

    Probably not a very important question but I’ve always wondered what made coutnries pick or announce their picks so early, and if there was any political motivation behind it (domestic or otherwise).

  • 19 8-23-2011 at 9:53 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Maxim: It’s a reasonable question, but as far as I can gather, it makes no difference when the submission is announced. I’d say most voters in the category aren’t really aware of the submissions until the Academy starts the official screenings in October.

  • 20 8-23-2011 at 10:47 am

    THE Diego Ortiz said...

    They need the movie about the drug dealer that goes into Iraq to save his brother who is being held hostage.

  • 21 8-23-2011 at 2:33 pm

    Maxim said...


  • 22 8-24-2011 at 9:39 am

    han said...

    South Korea has put forward The Front Line as its national contender for the foreign-language Academy Award.