Where Cannes 2018 was light on red-carpet celebrities, the Official Selection offered many stars in the form of potential foreign-language award contenders. Each country has its own arcane rules for submitting films for the Foreign Language Oscar, but distributors scrambled to scoop up available titles and hope for the best.
For the 2019 Oscars, 87 countries submitted eligible entries, down from 92 last year.
Cannes entries include Best Director Pawel Pawlikowski’s follow-up to Oscar-winner “Ida,” the bittersweet period romance “Cold War” (Amazon Studios), starring incandescent breakout Joanna Kulig, which was inevitably Poland’s entry, and Kazakhstan’s “Ayka,” which won an acting award for Samal Yesyamova, to two poverty-row melodramas, Hirozaku Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters” — which won the Palme d’Or and a Magnolia deal and is Japan’s official Oscar submission— and Lebanese Nadine Labaki’s heart-tugging crowdpleaser “Capernaum” (Sony Pictures Classics), which scored the Jury Prize.
Italy chose “Gomorrah” director Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman,” which won Marcello Fonte Best Actor, over Alice Rohrwacher’s elegantly moving Best Screenplay winner, “Happy as Lazzaro” (Netflix).
Collecting no prizes were “The Wild Pear Tree,” which is Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s fifth Oscar submission from Turkey, and rookie A.B. Shawky’s leper drama “Yomeddine” (Strand Releasing), Egypt’s submission.
South Korea has not had much luck with the Oscars: since 1962 they have not scored one foreign-language nomination, but the country submitted critical hit “Burning,” (winner of the Cannes FIPRESCI critics’ prize) from Lee Chang-dong.
Other films made a mark, including Un Certain Regard prize-winner “Border” (Neon), the gender-bending official Swedish entry directed by Iran-born Ali Abbasi; the Belgian submission from rookie Lukas Dhont, the transgender ballerina drama “Girl” (Netflix), which won the Un Certain Regard performance award and the Camera d’Or; Benedikt Erlingsson’s Iceland entry “Woman at War”; Best Director Sergei Loznitsa’s “Donbass,” the Ukraine submission, and Colombia’s official Oscar film, drug-cartel adventure “Birds of Passage” (The Orchard), from co-directors (and ex-spouses) Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, whose “Embrace of the Serpent” landed a surprise Oscar nomination.
Politics could intervene in several countries: While Wanuri Kahiu’s gay romance “Rafiki” was initially banned by Kenya, the country temporarily lifted the ban in time for the filmmaker to qualify the film with a theatrical run. Iran did not allow Jafar Panahi to join his countryman Asghar Farhadi at Cannes with his Competition film “Three Faces,” and submitted “No Date, No Signature” over Farhadi’s Cannes opener “Everybody Knows,” which was also not submitted by Spain. As always, Israel’s entry is the winner of the Ophir Award, “The Cakemaker” (Strand).
The Danish entry, Gustav Möller’s “The Guilty” took home the Sundance World Cinema Audience Award; its distributor Magnolia Pictures often handles Scandinavian Oscar nominees, from “A Royal Affair” and “The Hunt” to “The Square.” And out of Berlin, “The Heiresses” (Distrib Films) is the Paraguay submission, as it won Best Actress, the FIPRESCI Prize and the Alfred Bauer Silver Bear. Russia, which won no Cannes prizes, went with controversial World War II holocaust drama “Sobibor” from Konstantin Khabensky, which screened in the Cannes market.
For its part, Germany submitted “The Lives of Others” Oscar-winner Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s fall festival film “Never Look Away” (SPC). And France, which controversially refused to qualify Olivier Assayas’s festival hit “Non-Fiction” (which won’t open until January), picked instead Emmanuel Finkiel’s World War II drama Memoir of War, starring Melanie Thierry and Benjamin Biolay.
The fall festivals introduced new titles, most notably Mexican entry Alfonso Cuaron’s autobiographical black-and-white 70s family drama “Roma,” which he shot himself on an Alexa 6K 65 camera in his old hometown, Mexico City, and “Sunset” (SPC), Hungarian László Nemes’ follow-up to Oscar-winner “Son of Saul.”
Here’s a sampling of what could be shortlisted and nominated this year. No film can be deemed a frontrunner until I have seen it. Lists are alphabetical.
“Border” (Ali Abbassi, Sweden)
“Capernaum” (Nadine Labaki, Lebanon)
“Cold War” (Pawel Pawlikowski, Poland)
“Roma” (Alfonso Cuaron, Mexico)
“Shoplifters” (Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan)
“Birds of Passage” (Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, Colombia)
“Dogman” (Matteo Garrone, Italy)
“Donbass” (Sergei Loznitsa, Ukraine)
“Family Ties” (Sophie Dupuis, Canada)
“Girl” (Lukas Dhont, Belgium)
“Graves Without a Name” (Rithy Panh, Cambodia)
“The Great Mystical Circus” (Carlos Diegues, Brazil)
“The Guilty” (Gustav Möller, Denmark)
“I Am Not a Witch” (Rungano Nyoni, United Kingdom)
“Sunset” (László Nemes, Hungary)
“El Angel” (Luis Ortega, Argentina)
“Ayka” (Sergei Devortsevoy, Kazakhstan)
“Crystal Swan” (Darya Zhuk, Belarus)
“Eldorado” (Markus Imhoof, Switzerland)
“The Family” (Gustavo Rondón Córdova, Venezuela)
“I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” (Radu Jude, Romania)
“The Interpreter” (Martin Šulík, Slovakia)
“Memoir of War” (Emmanuel Finkiel)
“Rafiki” (Wanuri Kahiu, Kenya)
“Take It or Leave It” (Liina Triškina-Vanhatalo, Estonia)
“The Wild Pear Tree” (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)
“Woman at War” (Benedikt Erlingsson, Iceland)
“Wonderful Losers: A Different World” (Arūnas Matelis, Lithuania)
“Yomeddine” (A.B. Shawky, Egypt)