Australia enters foreign-language race with German-language WWII drama 'Lore'

Posted by · 1:12 am · September 8th, 2012

(UPDATE: No sooner had I posted this story than I received notification that Hungary has submitted Berlin Silver Bear winner “Just the Wind,” which I’ve seen. More detail on that in the next category update.) 

In the few days since I last checked in on this category, there have been several new titles added to the growing pile of Best Foreign Language Film Oscar submissions — and the rate will only increase as the deadline for entries looms at the end of the month. We’re up to 13 now, but it’ll be 60 or so before you know it.

The most notable title from the new entries is Australia’s submission “Lore” — which I suggested back in June would be one to watch in the race. Like Austria’s pick of Michael Haneke’s “Amour,” it’s a selection that couldn’t have been made a few years ago, when countries had to submit films in a native language. Indeed, there’s nothing obviously Australian about “Lore” — a German-set, German-language World War II survival story about five children’s 500-mile trek to safety in the dying days of the Third Reich — bar the fact that it’s a largely Australian production from a noted Down Under director, Cate Shortland. (Britain and Germany also had in hand in the financing — so between “Lore,” “Amour” and their own selection “Barbara,” the former country indirectly has a number of dogs in this fight.)

As a huge fan of Shortland’s uneasily atmospheric 2004 debut “Somersault” — the film that brought both Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington to international attention — I’ve been waiting with some impatience for her follow-up, and critical reactions so far suggest she hasn’t disappointed. There’s widespread bafflement that the film was turned down by the Cannes Film Festival — which, as you may recall, could have used a strong female-directed feature or two — but the film has rallied since debuting in low-key fashion at the Sydney Film Festival, and is currently garnering further admiration in Toronto. (US rights have already been snapped up by Music Box.) It’s currently my most-anticipated film at next month’s London Film Festival.

The combination of a WWII setting and a child’s-eye perspective makes “Lore” obvious Academy catnip in the category, boosted by the (inessential) asset that’s it’s evidently very good to boot. The question is whether voters, who are often overly impressed by cultural specificity, will hold the film’s indirect relationship to its home country against it. Australia has entered the race five times before, always with locally-set features. They’ve never been nominated — though their last attempt, 2009’s Aboriginal love story “Samson and Delilah,” cracked the January shortlist. I’m thinking they’ll do at least as well this year.

Another language-crossing director in the race is Sweden’s Lasse Hallstrom, twice nominated for Best Director by the Academy — in 1987 for his Swedish breakout hit “My Life as a Dog” and in 1999 for one of his sappy US efforts, “The Cider House Rules.” Since then, his Hollywood stock has since fallen sufficiently (“Dear John” and early 2012 release “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” did fine commercially, but no one was calling for Oscars) that he has returned home to make his first Swedish feature in 25 years.

The resulting film, “The Hypnotist,” sounds significantly less soft-centered than Hallstrom’s American confections: starring Mikael Persbrandt (“In a Better World”) and Hallstrom’s wife Lena Olin, among others, it’s a thriller following a detective and a psychiatrist on the trail of a killer, who must use hypnosis on the traumatized son of a slain family in order to track him down. The film was screened in the market at Cannes this year and only premieres in Sweden later this month, so no reactions have leaked yet; on paper, it sounds slickly commercial and ripe for Hollywoold treatment. That may not necessarily make it the voters’ cup of tea in this traditionally genre-averse category, but a familiar name at the helm may give it a leg up.  

Also joining the list is Greece, whose selection, “Unfair World,” won the Best Actor and Best Director prizes at the San Sebastian Film Festival  last year. The film, a mystery-tinged moral dramedy , drew favorable but arm’s-length reviews in the English-language press. Some might be surprised that the Greek selectors didn’t go for last year’s superb Venice prizewinner “Alps,” especially after director Yorgos Lanthimos scored a highly improbable Oscar nod last year for “Dogtooth” — but lightning was always unlikely to strike twice in that place.

The Japanese are trying their luck this year with the rather uninspiringly titled “Our Homeland,” about a terminally ill man reunited with his family after a 25-year exile in North Korea. Second-generation Korean immigrant Yang Yong-hi based it on her own family history, giving the film a similar backstory to Cambodia’s entry, “Lost Loves.” The film’s Berlinale response, however, was not overly kind.

Also in the mix: Poland’s “80 Million,” a politically themed, allegedly uplifting heist drama set in the country’s Communist era; Ukraine’s “Firecrosser,” the true story of a Soviet POW under Stalin’s regime who eventually became a Native American tribe leader (!); and The Netherlands’ “Kauwboy,” a Berlin-garlanded debut feature about the friendship between a young boy and an abandoned bird. “Kes” with clogs, anyone?

You can keep track of the submissions over at our Contenders page for the category, which I’ll be sorting more rigorously as the number grows.

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