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For Your Consideration: How the Foreign Language Oscar Race is Shaping Up

For Your Consideration: How the Foreign Language Oscar Race is Shaping Up

READ MORE: Have We Already Seen Our 2016 Best Picture Winner?

It’s pretty much an assured equation: Oscars + Foreign Language Film
Category = Outrage.

Sometimes, the fault lies with Academy voters (as it
did when “Departures” won the Oscar in 2008 over what most viewed as
two greatly superior nominees, “Waltz With Bashir” and “The Class,” or
when “Mommy” and “Force Majeure” were left off the ballot last year). Sometimes, the national submission
committees are at fault (like when Spain chose “Mondays in the Sun” over “Talk To Her” back in 2002, only to see the former get nothing and the latter win the Oscar for best original screenplay — a category Spain had no control over). And sometimes it’s just those pesky Academy rules — like two years back, when “Blue is the Warmest Color” couldn’t submit because it wasn’t released within the Oscar-dictated timeline.

The  list of entries from around the world this year is coming together fast as ever. Countries have until October 1 to submit, though at this point the vast majority of them already have announced their contenders. We went through the list to offer up a few notable developments before the race starts officially heating up next week:

There are a lot of entries.

Last year, a then-record 83 countries submitted to the foreign language category. This year 61 have already announced, with over a week left to go. With Spain, Canada, Denmark, Italy and India among the many countries left to submit, it’s likely the ultimate number will come to close to eclipsing last year.

Paraguay is going for it for the first time.

Fun fact: The South American country of Paraguay has never submitted a film in Oscar’s 88 years — until now. “Cloudy Times” (or “El tiempo nublado”) — a Parguayan-Swiss co-production, will be aiming for the gold this year. It’s a documentary directed by Arami Ullon that premiered in Karlovy Vary last year, detailing Ullon’s relationship with her ageing mother who suffers from both epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. We wish you luck on your first time out, Paraguay.

Austria boldly submitted “Goodnight Mommy.”

This category hasn’t exactly been a hotbed for genre films, especially of the horror variety. But Austria — the winner here two years ago with “Amour” — has taken a chance on Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s “Goodnight Mommy,” which was just released Stateside a few weeks ago via RADiUS-TWC and has been bringing in very respectable box office. That should help the case for the terrifying film, which follows twin boys who move to a new home with their mother after she has face changing cosmetic surgery — except that under her bandages is someone the children don’t recognize. (It was the subject of James Franco’s first Indiewire column last week.) Hey, if “Dogtooth” can make the cut here, why not this?

France went with “Mustang” over the Palme d’Or winner.

Though France has historically done very well in this category (it holds the record for nominations at 39), it hasn’t been nominated since “A Prophet” in 2010.  The country had a lot to choose from this year to change that. “A Prophet” director Jacques Audiard’s Palme d’Or-winning “Dheepan,” Stephane Brize’s “The Measure of a Man” (which won Vincent Lindon the best actor award in Cannes), Catherine Corsini’s lesbian romance “Summertime,” and Xavier Giannoli’s “Marguerite” were all among the finalists.

But they lost out to Deniz Gamze Erguven’s critically-acclaimed feature debut “Mustang,” which is primarily in Turkish. Set in a remote village, the film depicts the lives of five young orphaned sisters as they face the challenge of growing up as women in a conservative Turkish society. It’s a strong pick and a timely subject matter, no doubt (it won Directors’ Fortnight’s Europa Cinemas award). But when you’re a newcomer up against the Palme d’Or winner — which just so happens to be directed by the last person to get nominated for a country — it’s always a surprise if you get the bid.

China submitted a Jean-Jacques Annaud movie.

Jean-Jacques Annaud won this award for France back in 1976 in “Black and White in Color,” and could be back in the running — except this time for China and “Wolf Totem.” The director has worked in countries all over the world (case in point: his last film “Day of the Falcon,” which was a Tunisia-France-Italy-Qatar co-production in English), so this isn’t entirely surprise. What is a surprise is that China would submit the film. Back in 1997, the country banned Annaud and his film “Seven Years in Tibet.” They’ve since lifted the ban on the filmmaker, but despite submitting his latest film to the Oscars, “Seven Years in Tibet” remains in exile. 

Roy Andersson is being submitted for the fourth time.

Legendary Swedish director Roy Andersson has been working for over six decades — but he’s only made six films. With his sixth, “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence,” he has managed quite the feat: As Sweden has submitted it to the Oscars, Andersson now has the distinction of having four of his six films in contention. However, none of them actually got nominated. Will “Pigeon” change that for the 72 year-old director? Critics are on its side, but the content might be a little bit too out there for Oscar voters (the name itself might scare them off from putting on the screener). And in any case…

The race is Hungary’s to lose.

Hungarian director László Nemes’ “Son of Saul” — which won the Grand Prix at Cannes — is being released Stateside by Sony Pictures Classics, which will likely also be aiming for it to find support in other categories (picture, director and screenplay are definitely not out of the question). Holocaust dramas have historically done extraordinary well at the Oscars, especially when they’re as universally acclaimed as this film. Mind you, this category is notoriously unpredictable, so calling anything the “frontrunner” here needs to carefully considered. But if you want to hedge one bet here this far in advance, you better call “Saul.”

Peter Knegt is Indiewire’s Contributing Editor and awards columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

READ MORE: Anne Thompson’s Oscar Predictions

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