Spanish selectors ignore Almodóvar, as Sony picks up Lebanese Oscar hopeful

Posted by · 4:40 pm · September 28th, 2011

We’ll lead this foreign-language Oscar update with a promising bit of news on a previously announced submission. Lebanon’s entry, Nadine Labaki’s feminist comedy “Where Do We Go Now?” has just been picked up for US distribution by Sony Pictures Classics.

This is hardly surprising news at this point: buzz on Labaki’s film has soared since it surprised everyone by scooping the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival, and the folks at Sony, which has overwhelmingly dominated this Oscar category in recent years, know a prime contender when they see one. This seals the film’s status as one of the favorites for a nomination — a remarkably quick turnaround for a film that generated little chatter when it debuted at Cannes. 

Meanwhile, regular observers of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar race could have seen this next announcement coming. For the second time in a row, the latest film from Spain’s most celebrated auteur, Pedro Almodóvar, has not been selected as the country’s official submission for the award. His kinky, Cannes-endorsed thriller “The Skin I Live In” was one of three films shortlisted for the honor, but has been passed over in favor of Agustí Villaronga’s Franco-era child’s-eye saga “Black Bread.”

Almodóvar’s fanbase is such that the kneejerk media response to such news is that an injustice has been done, but my sense is that the Spanish selectors have chosen wisely. I haven’t seen “Black Bread,” which recently won an armload of Goya Awards (one year after taking Best Actress at the San Sebastian Film Festival) to rave reviews from local critics and mixed ones from the international crowd, but it sounds potentially right up the Academy’s alley: serious-minded period dramas about the effects of war on children have found a home in voters’ hearts on numerous previous occasions.

I don’t count Almodóvar’s enjoyable but emotionally hollow twistathon among his best films (check out my Cannes review here), but even if I did, its sexual and gender preoccupations probably wouldn’t appeal to the foreign-language branch’s more conservative voters; meanwhile, I suspect the executive committee prefers to reserve their “save” votes for fresher work from less amply rewarded directors. Whether the Spanish have chosen the better film I can’t say, but they’ve clearly chosen their stronger contender.

Much is made of the Spanish selection panel’s on-off relationship with the veteran director, but you can hardly blame them for wanting to give other filmmakers a turn: Almodóvar’s represented Spain on five previous occasions, cracking the nominee list twice, and winning once. There’s no denying that they screwed up by not submitting “Talk To Her” in 2002 — a truth the Academy underlined by handing Almodóvar a Best Original Screenplay Oscar that year — but there’s no reason why his lesser works should get automatic preference.

In other news, two European countries have entered films that premiered at the recent Venice Film Festival. Italy — the country that holds the record for most wins in the category — has opted for Emmanuel Crialese’s “Terraferma,” a contemporary illegal-immigrant drama that played to tepid reviews on the Lido, but nonetheless wound up winning the Special Jury Prize from Darren Aronofsky’s panel. I missed the film, but as a fan of Crialese’s “Golden Door,” I look forward to catching up with it at the upcoming London Film Festival and deciding for myself. On paper, it sounds like the film’s alleged blend of sentiment and hot-button social issues could find favor among voters, particularly given the country’s track record.

I have, on the other hand, seen Switzerland’s entry “Summer Games,” a tale of a broken, abuse-plagued family unravelling over the course of a summer camping vacation, viewed largely from the perspective of their oldest son. I’ll write about the film at greater length in a future round-up of Oscar-submission reviews, but it’s a modest, affecting, slightly overcooked piece that I don’t see gaining much traction among voters, even with the ever-popular kid-protagonist angle. 

Other countries that have submitted films since our last update include Cuba (“Habanastation”), Thailand (“Kon Kohn”) and Uruguay (“The Silent House”). As always, any thoughts or information you might have on these or other submissions are most welcome in the comments. Here’s the full list as it currently stands:

Albania – “The Forgiveness of Blood”

Austria – “Breathing”

Belgium – “Bullhead”

Bosnia and Herzegovina – “Belvedere”

Brazil – “Elite Squad 2″

Bulgaria – “Tilt”

Canada – “Monsieur Lazhar”

Chile – “Violeta”

China – “The Flowers of War”

Colombia – “The Colors of the Mountain”

Cuba – “Habanastation”

Czech Republic – “Alois Nebel”

Denmark – “SuperClasico”

Finland – “Le Havre”

France – “Declaration of War”

Germany – “Pina”

Greece – “Attenberg”

Hong Kong – “A Simple Life”

Hungary – “The Turin Horse”

Iceland – “Volcano”

India – “Adaminte Makan Abu”

Iran – “A Separation”

Ireland – “As If I Am Not There”

Israel – “Footnote”

Italy – “Terraferma”

Japan – “Postcard”

Lebanon – “Where Do We Go Now?”

Lithuania – “Back in Your Arms”

Mexico – “Miss Bala”

Morocco – “Omar Killed Me”

Netherlands – “Sonny Boy”

Norway – “Happy, Happy”

Peru – “October”

Philippines – “The Woman in the Septic Tank”

Poland – “In Darkness”

Portugal – “José and Pilar”

Romania – “Morgen”

Russia – “Burnt by the Sun 2: Citadel”

Serbia – “Montevideo, God Bless You!”

Slovakia – “Gypsy”

South Africa – “Beauty”

South Korea – “The Front Line”

Spain – “Black Bread”

Sweden – “Beyond”

Taiwan – “Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale”

Thailand – “Kon Khon”

Uruguay – “The Silent House”

Venezuela – “The Rumble of the Stones”

Vietnam – “Thang Long Aspiration”

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