It’s a tad early to predict the eventual foreign-language Oscar submissions, as many will be screened during the fall film festivals. But a few well-regarded titles are moving their way into consideration by their home countries, which all have their own methods of choosing their eventual selection.
Ruben Östlund’s hilarious Palme d’Or-winner “The Square” (October 27, Magnolia Pictures), an art-world satire shot in Swedish and English, stars Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, and Dominic West. While Östlund’s “Force Majeure” was a surprise 2015 Oscar omission, “The Square” is Sweden’s likely entry, assuming it has sufficient Swedish to be eligible.
As always, Sony Pictures Classics has an early bead on some of the best-reviewed movies at the festivals so far. Berlin debuted Sebastián Lelio’s transgender drama “A Fantastic Woman,” which won Best Screenplay and could be the Chilean Oscar entry. Cannes critics raved over Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev’s moving, intense family drama “Loveless,” which did win a Cannes jury prize, if not the big one; the Russians may have to consider submitting the film for the Oscar.
But they could also go with strong Un Certain Regard title “Tesnota,” a horrifying story of a kidnapping ring that holds families up for ransom—if you don’t pay the money, the captured will be killed. Set in the Nalchik region beset with ethnic strife, the movie shows the devastating impact of a kidnapping on a traditional Jewish family. The film is simply made but powerful, and could provide Russia with an alternative to the independent-minded Zvyagintsev, who is hellbent on showing an unflattering mirror up to a society overrun by controlling culture ministers demanding positive portraits of their culture.
While Cannes debut “Happy End” (December 22) reunites the Oscar-winning “Amour” father-daughter team of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert, Michael Haneke’s bourgeois family saga may be too dark to be France’s Oscar pick. Brilliant but brutal, “Happy End” is not as accessible and moving as “Amour,” despite strong performances. And Olivier Assayas and Roman Polanski’s writer drama “Based on a True Story” starring Eva Green and Emmanuelle Seigner landed mixed reviews at Cannes.
A more likely French Oscar candidate is Robin Campillo’s moving portrait of the ’80s AIDS epidemic in France, “120 Beats Per Minute,” which took home the Cannes Grand Prix and was acquired by The Orchard, which has been moving into international pickups of late. They are also releasing Joachim Trier’s sci-fi thriller “Thelma,” about a woman falling in love who has fantastic powers, which will debut at TIFF and could be Norway’s Oscar submission.
Another possibility for France is “Faces Places,” 88-year-old filmmaker Agnes Varda’s heart-tugging pop-up road movie documentary, which came out of Cannes surrounded by love and valentines and its Best Documentary prize. She’s at the top of her game, even if she’s going blind and leans on a cane. The aging Academy doc branch will respond to this love letter to the creative spirit.
Likely German Oscar entry Fatih Akin’s “In the Fade” won Best Actress for Diane Kruger At Cannes, but the drama has not yet signed a North American distributor.
See contenders listed below in alphabetical order; no movie will be deemed a frontrunner until I’ve seen it.
“Faces Places” (France)
“The Square” (Sweden)
“120 Beats per Minute” (France)
“The Divine Order” (Switzerland)
“A Fantastic Woman” (Chile)
“In the Fade” (Germany)