Indiewire got to speak with all the 2012 Best Foreign Language Feature Film Academy Award nominees over the last year; get to know the filmmakers and their films by checking out our profiles below, ahead of this Sunday’s awards ceremony.
Israeli writer-director Joseph Cedar, Oscar-nominated for his tense war movie “Beaufort,” will be back at the Kodak Theater this Sunday for “Footnote.” Not bad for a filmmaker with only four features to his name. “Footnote” concerns a father and his grown son, both professors, who work in Talmudic Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The father, Eliezer (Shlomo Bar-Aba), is a stubborn purist, while his son Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi) is anything but. Despite Eliezer’s seniority, Uriel is more popular among academics and students. So imagine the surprise when it’s announced that Eliezer will receive the Israel Prize, the most valuable honor for scholarship in the country, over his more successful son. But as it turns out, everything is not as it seems.
Says Cedar: “We had a premiere in Jerusalem the week after Cannes. We had a premieres in Tel Aviv and then premiered in Jerusalem. The premiere in Jerusalem, I invited the people that had some connection to the story. We had a room full of philologists. Some of them haven’t seen a film in 18 or 19 years. It was scary for me, but it was an amazing screening. These are people who look at things differently, at the tiniest details.”
Since premiering to great acclaim in February at the Berlin International Film Festival (where it netted three awards, including best film), the Iranian drama “A Separation” from writer/director Asghar Farhadi has continued to impress, reaping accolades and wins at festivals all over the world. Our own annual critics poll named it the third best film of the year. The film concerns a married couple with an 11-year-old daughter (played by Farhidi’s own daughter) who are on the verge of separating. The wife wants to leave Iran with her daughter and start anew overseas. Her husband doesn’t share her sentiments, preferring to stay Iran to care for his ailing father. This setup frames the crux of the story, which involves a mystery surrounding a maid hired after the wife leaves the family.
Says Farhadi: “My only aim was to make a film which is in the true sense of the word, cinematic. I tried to make the film in such a way that the viewer was able to become involved with the film on the basis of their own preoccupations. The notion that I could have made this film in order to convey to people who are not in this society how the society is, seems completely unimaginable.”
Agnieszka Holland, director of the Academy Award-nominated (Best Foreign Language Feature) Holocaust drama “In Darkness,” is no stranger to documenting that period on film (or to Academy Award nominations, for that matter), having made “Angry Harvest” and “Europa Europa,” both Holocaust films nominated for Oscars. But “In Darkness” does mark a departure for Holland — it’s her first film set primarily undergound. Based on a true story, “In Darkness” centers on Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), a sewer worker in Lvov, a Nazi occupied city in Poland. After coming across a group of Jews trying to escape the liquidation of the ghetto, Leopold agrees to hide them undergound in the town’s sewer system, for a price. What soon begins as a business arrangement soon blossoms into something deeper, as Leopold’s conscience gets the better of him.
Says Holland: “I was really afraid of because I went to those places before. You’re really paying the price; you have to really spend two to three years of your life, very deeply, going to the bottom of this reality. Not only by reading this and thinking that and listening to the stories and watching the movies and documentaries, but also making some kind of emotional journey to try and imagine what these people went through — to really express it in a truthful, authentic and profound way.”
In 2010, Belgian filmmaker Michael R. Roskam came to the Berlin Film Festival with his first feature, “Bullhead,” as a relative unknown. A year later and Roskam’s an Academy Award nominee. His blistering debut stars Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts as Jacky Vanmarsenille, a steroid-addicted cattle farmer with a mysterious past. When he intiates a shady deal with a notorious mafioso meat trader, things go haywire, forcing Jacky to face his demons in order to deal with the present.
Says Roskam: “My life was more simple before this. I was very comfortable with that, and things start to change, and you have to think of more things, more ideas, more scripts. And in America I have an agent now and a manager who are taking care of me. Of course, I would love making movies in America. Not because I want to send a Hollywood postcard home, but because it’s the highest concentration of the best talent. All the movies I love, many of them, were made here. I would love to go here.”
In an early scene in Philippe Falardeau’s “Monsieur Lazhar,” a young child discovers that his teacher has committed suicide, hanging herself from the rafters of their classroom. Rather than become the starting point for a dreary psychological examination of the relationship between teacher and student, this controversial action serves as the impetus for introducing the film’s title character as her replacement. Adapted by Falardeau from a play by Évelyne de la Chenelière, “Monsieur Lazhar” does not shy away from the emotionally scarring action of the children’s former teacher. Rather, it follows the process of Algerian immigrant Bachir Lazhar acclimating himself to a new classroom environment, all the while fighting for his ability to remain in Canada as a citizen. This is Falardeau’s fourth feature, following “The Left-Hand Side of the Fridge,” “Congorama” and “It’s Not Me, I Swear!”
Says Falardeau: “I might be doing a film in Spanish before English. I know I want to do a film in Latin America. I’ve been toying with some ideas for years. I wouldn’t be able to direct actors in Spanish and find the right word for what I’m trying to achieve, so I need to go one step further. It’s all about the script: Am I the particular person for that script? Does it appeal to me? I would do French, English and Spanish and I could probably do Italian also. So it’s not about trying to reach a wider audience by shooting in English. If the story takes place in Kentucky, it’s going to have to be in English.”