Nepal and Greece enter the foreign-language Oscar race

Posted by · 9:35 am · August 26th, 2013

Well, it won’t be France’s “Blue is the Warmest Color” (for eligibility reasons discussed here), but at least one lesbian-focused drama stands a chance at winning this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. And it’s from rather an unexpected country: Nepal. Subarna Thapa’s film “Soongava: Dance of the Orchids,” a story of a young dancer who defies her wealthy Hindu family’s plans for an arranged marriage to move in with her working-class female lover, was announced as the landlocked South Asian state’s official submission yesterday.

Nepal currently has some of the most progressive gay-rights legislation in Asia, but this is the first overtly gay-themed film to emerge from the country’s tiny film industry. Indeed, it’s only the fifth film they’ve ever entered in the Oscar race, and the first since 2006. Nepal got lucky with their very first submission, as French director Eric Valli’s picturesque epic “Caravan” scored a nomination in the 1999 race, but none of their subsequent submissions has made the grade.

“Soongava” is a French-Nepalese co-production; Thapa, though Kathmandu-born, has since relocated to France and taken on French citizenship. That’s not a problem for the Academy, though apparently the selection of his film has met with some disapproval in the Nepalese industry. 

The film beat three other shortlisted Nepalese productions: “Badhsara,” “Sanguro” and “Sirish Ko Phool.” Released at home in January, “Soongava” did minimal business, but has had more success on the international festival circuit, playing Palm Springs and winning a Jury Award at the Toronto Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. Reviewing it for Variety out of Palm Springs, Boyd van Hoeij dismissed it as a “by-the-numbers coming-out narrative”; it doesn’t sound like much of a threat for the gold, but good on Nepal for making and submitting it.

Also picking adventurously is Greece: after scoring that improbably Oscar nomination for audacious critical favorite “Dogtooth” three years, the country seems to have been emboldened to enter more dark, challenging works from their current wave of cool-blooded auteur cinema. This year’s submission is the catchily titled “Boy Eating the Bird’s Food,” a debut feature from well-regarded local theater director Ektoras Lygizos that made an impact at last year’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival (where I unfortunately missed it). It then travelled the fest circuit extensively, with stops in Toronto and Rotterdam, among others.

The film is reportedly an allegory of sorts for the country’s recent economic woes, starring young first-time actor Yannis Papadopoulos (whose performance received honors at Karlovy Vary and Thessaloniki) as an unemployed singer driven onto the street by his financial predicament, with a pet canary as his only ally. The film has garnered a degree of notoriety on the fest circuit for a scene in which the desperately hungry protagonist eats his own sperm.

Not up the Academy’s alley, one suspects. But hey, that’s what we said about “Dogtooth.” 

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