Every year Hollywood gets a curated batch of films from dozens of countries seeking an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. One film
per nation is chosen to represent the best of its cinematic production during the previous year. Certainly the chosen film is not always the ideal
candidate, but the reasoning behind the selection usually follows two patterns: there are countries that go with the best film even if this is not the most
appealing choice and there are countries that go with the most ambitious, industry-friendly, and financially successful work. This year the astonishing
number of submissions – a total of 83 – makes for an incredible list of films that range from those that sport festival pedigree of the highest caliber,
unknown gems looking for an audience, expensive visual achievements, and obscure art house hopefuls.
This year more than most, there are a great number of films with serious possibilities. There is no unshakable front-runner, but there are numerous
favorites. Yet, looking at last year’s 9 shortlisted films and eventual 5 nominees, nothing is written in stone. Critics and audience favorites like “ The Past” (Iran), “Gloria” (Chile), “Heli” (Mexico), and “Wadjda” (Saudi Arabia) were
left out to include surprises like “The Missing Picture“ (Cambodia), “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker” (Bosnia
& Herzegovina) or “The Notebook” (Hungary).
With Awards Season now in full swing and knowing that this is one of the most difficult races to follow, here is a comprehensive list that includes
information for each of the 83 submissions. Below each poster you will find the title of the film linked to its page on IMDB Pro followed by the title in
the original language; the director’s name also linked to his/her IMDB Page; the language the film is primarily in; the name of the U.S. distributor if
there is one; the name of the film’s International Sales Agent (ISA) or Production Company (PC) linked to the film’s page on Cinando; and a link to the film’s trailer (most of them
have English subtitles, others are only in the original language, and a few are videos related to the film because a trailer wasn’t available). In
addition, reviews and interviews with many of these filmmakers will be added regularly.
Before getting into the list, let’s take a look at some of the statistics and patterns among these 83 foreign language features.
Several countries selected films based on the lives of prominent local figures or great period pieces, both showcase the level of films being produced
across the globe in terms of production value and scope. Mexico’s “Cantinflas,” Venezuela’s “The Liberator,” Kyrgyzstan “Kurmanjan Datka Queen of the Mountains,” Bolivia’s “Forgotten,” Indonesia’s “Soekarno,” Greece’s “Little England,” Macedonia’s “To the Hilt,” Hong Kong’s “The Golden Era,” Austria’s “The Dark Valley,” Switzerland’s “The Circle,” Bulgaria’s “Bulgarian Rhapsody,” Serbia’s “ See You in Montevideo,” Slovakia’s “A Step Into the Dark” and New Zealand’s “The Dead Lands” are some of
the most expensive films ever made in their respective territories. All of them are epic productions that highlight an important historical period using
impressive cinematography, a great number of extras, intricate costumes, lavish locations, detailed production design, as well as great battle sequences in several of
them. Other more traditional biopics/period pieces on the list include France’s “Saint Laurent,” The Netherlands “ Accused,” Germany’s “Beloved Sisters,” Spain’s “Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed” and the Czech
Republic’s “Fair Play”
Masters and Festival Winners
Not surprisingly many of the films on the list come into this race after winning important awards at international festivals. Furthermore, a handful of
them are from master filmmakers, masters in the making, or unique new voices. These films include Belgium’s “Two Days, One Night” (Cannes,
Telluride, TIFF, NYFF, AFI Fest) by the Dardenne Brothers, Canada’s “Mommy” (Cannes, Telluride, TIFF, AFI Fest) by prodigy Xavier Dolan,
Chile’s “To Kill a Man” (Sundance, Rotterdam, Cartagena) by Alejandro Fernandez Almendras, Hungary’s “White God” (Cannes) by Kornél Mundruczó, Norway’s “1001 Grams” (TIFF)
by Bent Hamer, Poland’s “Ida”(TIFF, Sundance) by Pawel Pawlikowski, Russia’s “Leviathan” (Cannes, Telluride, TIFF, AFI
Fest) by Andrey Zvyagintsev, Sweden’s “Force Majeure” (Cannes, Telluride, TIFF) by Ruben Östlund, and Turkey’s “ Winter Sleep” (Cannes, Telluride, TIFF) by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. All of these films have played at renowned international festivals and most
have earned important recognition there.
Out of the Box
Whether they are aware of their actual possibilities at a nomination or not, each year a few countries take the risk of sending a film that defies
convention despite having more safe choices. But that is not say they are entirely out of the race, films like “The Missing Picture”
and “Dogtooth” prove that sometimes there is room for daring and unique filmmaking. With “Rocks in My Pockets” Latvia is
the only country to submit an animated film this year. The film is an inventive and colorful look at depression. Then there is the almost-silent and highly
poetic Ecuadorian entry “Silence in Dreamland” and Singapore’s musically driven drama “Sayang Disayang.” However, the
boldest selection has to be the Philippines’ “Norte, the End of History” by acclaimed auteur Lav Diaz, which runs over four hours and is
inspired by Dostoyevsky Crime and Punishment.
Only two countries chose to go with non-fiction entries. One of them is Panama’s “Invasion,” which deals with the aftermath of the U.S.
intervention in that country in 1989. This is the Central American nation’s first ever Oscar submission. The other documentary contending is Portugal’s “ What Now? Remind Me,“ a self-portrait by filmmaker Joaquim Pinto exploring his struggles living with HIV. One should note that
Portugal is one of the few countries in Western Europe to have never obtained a nomination in the category despite entering films consecutively for several
Films with stories that highlight sexual diversity occasionally make their way into this list. Last year the only LGBT title submitted was “ Soongava: Dance of the Orchids,” which surprisingly came from Nepal and dealt with the relationship between two young women in the
traditional Asian society. This time around four countries selected films with similar themes. Brazil’s festival darling “ The Way He Looks” – a sweet coming-of-age tale- was an audacious choice among the many other films the South American country produces
every year. Then there is Switzerland’s “The Circle” about a pioneering gay publication during the 1940s/1950s in Zurich and the real
life relationship between two of its prominent members. Also there is Finland’s “Concrete Night” based on Pirkko Saisio’s novel who happens to be director Pirjo Honkasalo’s life partner. The film deals with a young boy on a journey through Helsinki discovering himself and finding strange characters along the way. Lastly there is France’s “Saint Laurent” about the iconic fashion designer.
As it usually happens, some countries go against what the industry expects and decide to send films that weren’t on most people’s radars. Bulgaria for
example selected “Bulgarian Rhapsody” by veteran director Ivan Nitchev over Sundance’s “Viktoria” by young female
director Maya Vitkova. Similarly, Ukraine overlooked Cannes favorite “The Tribe”- a powerful drama entirely in sign language – and decided
to go with “The Guide” by Oles Sanin. Nevertheless, the most shocking decision came from China. Instead of selecting a Chinese-directed
film like Berlin’s Golden Bear winner “Black Coal, Thin Ice” or Zhang Yimou’s “Coming Home,” the Chinese selection
committee chose “The Nightingale” by French director Philippe Muyl. Despite having a European helmer the film is authentically Chinese in
terms of language and story, but it was still an unexpected move from the traditionally patriotic country.
The unprecedented number of entries is in part due to the addition of countries submitting for the first time. Besides aforementioned Panama, there are
three other debutant nations in the mix. Kosovo- a tiny Balkan state often associated with the rampart war that afflicted the region a few decades ago – is
finally showcasing its film production. Their entry titled “Three Windows and a Hanging” is said to be a high quality, affecting drama.
Malta – a European island nation near Italy – is often used as astonishing location for big budget studio films. This year, however, “ Simshar,” a great immigration drama will represent the country. Lastly, Mauritania – a prominently Muslim nation in Sub-Saharan Africa –
selected Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu,”which played in competition at Cannes,as their inaugural submission. Although Sissako has
had several successful films at international festivals, this is the first time his country decides to participate.
Out of the 83 films, 14 were directed by women. That’s 17% of all entries. What’s more interesting is the fact that some of these films come from countries
that are often seen as traditionally patriarchal societies. 3 Latin American entries were created by female directors: Colombia’s “Mateo,”
Costa Rica’s “Red Princesses” and the Dominican Republic’s “Cristo Rey.” 4 from Asia: Hong Kong’s “ The Golden Era,” India’s “Liar’s Dice,” Japan’s “The Light Shines Only There,” and Pakistan’s “Dukhtar.”
2 from the Middle East: Israel’s “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” (Co-directed) and Palestine’s “Eyes of a Thief.”
Lastly, 5 films from Europe: The Czech Republic’s “Fair Play,” Finland’s “Concrete Night,” Latvia’s “ Rocks in My Pockets,” Malta’s “Simshar” and the Netherlands’ “Accused.”
Another interesting fact is the number of these films that already have U.S. distribution. Several of them have actually already opened theatrically here,
and others are set to open early next year. Out 83 films, 24 already have U.S. distribution. That’s 29% of all films. Hopefully that number increases by
the end of the season. The films are: Argentina’s “Wild Tales,” Austria’s “The Dark Valley,” Belgium’s “Two Days, One Night,” Brazil’s “The Way He Looks,” Canada’s “Mommy,” Chile’s “To Kill a Man,” France’s “Saint Laurent,” Germany’s “Beloved Sisters,” Hungary’s “White God,” Israel’s “ Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” Italy’s “Human Capital,” Latvia’s “Rocks in My Pockets,”
Mauritania’s “Timbuktu,” Mexico’s “Cantinflas,” Norway’s “1001 Grams,” The Philippines “Norte, the End of History,” Poland’s “Ida,” Portugal’s “What Now? Remind Me,” Russia’s “Leviathan,” Spain’s “Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed,” Sweden’s “Force Majeure,” Switzerland’s “The Circle,” Turkey’s “Winter Sleep,” and Venezuela’s “ The Liberator.”
To see which distribution company has each of these films please refer to the list below.
BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA
“Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” (Gett: Le Procès de Viviane Amsalem)
Dir: Ronit Elkabetz ♀ & Shlomi Elkabetz
U.S Distribution: Music Box Films
ISA: Films Distribution