Light Mode

Oscar Watch: Best Foreign Films

Usually, the discussion for Best Foreign Film doesn’t begin this early–mostly because it’s hard to find out about the foreign films nominated for the Academy Award before they are actually nominated.

Last year’s Best Foreign Film winner, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, was an exception. It was fast becoming a critical and box office success by this time last year–a rare but not impossible feat–and when it was nominated, the film completely overshadowed any of its competition in the category. (Frankly, I can’t even remember the other nominees.)

Other foreign films have achieved such status, including the Roberto Benigni tearjerker Life is Beautiful and the sweet Cinema Paradiso, but it doesn’t happen very often.

- Advertisement -

In contrast to last year’s blazing Crouching Tiger, this year’s foreign film hopefuls are a refreshing change of pace. There seems to be an eclectic band of small, personal and powerful films, each a solid choice in their own right.

Here’s our nominee list, from a surprisingly long list of worthy candidates, for Best Foreign Film.

The Piano Teacher (Austria)

This Cannes Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner is adapted from the Elfriede Jelinek’s novel of the same name. The lovely Isabelle Huppert–winner of the Cannes and European Film award for best actress–plays Erika Kohut, a middle-aged piano professor at the Vienna Music Conservatory, who has been spiraling into a self-destructive pattern for many years. Dealing with an intense love-hate relationship with her mother, Erika is torn between her love for music and her torrid, innermost desires.

Erika frequents peep shows and porn cinema, as well as occasionally watching couples make love in the park. When a young student makes his feelings known for her, Erika’s inhibitions are finally let go. Good for her! Huppert is a classic French actress who looks better the older she gets (like Catherine Deneuve)–and the Academy loves to pay homage to that type of woman. The fact that the film’s already won numerous awards doesn’t hurt, either.

No Man’s Land (Bosnia & Herzegovina)

- Advertisement -

Movies dealing with the atrocities in Bosnia & Herzegovina are finally starting to take hold (see Behind Enemy Lines), but, ultimately, a film coming from the source itself is more powerful. It’s a tough subject, and in No Man’s Land it’s dealt with in a satirical and poignant manner.

Two soldiers, one from each side–Ciki (Branko Djuric), a Bosnian, and Nino (Rene Bitorajac), a Serbian–find themselves stranded in a trench between each other’s front lines. Neither side wants to take responsibility for them, so a brave French UN sergeant takes the initiative to go in and rescue them, bringing the international press along with him. Suddenly, the situation becomes a political tug of war.

While the two soldiers wish to end their differences and save their lives, the insanity of the war proves to be too heavy a burden for them. The subject matter alone will most likely garner a spot for the film on the nominee list.

Amélie (France)

Winner of the Toronto Int’l Film Festival’s People Choice Award, this romantic comedy has been getting all kinds of wonderful reviews, mostly for its fresh new face, Audrey Tautou. Tatou plays Amelie, a quirky girl who finds a box belonging to someone else and decides she can change the lives of others by subtly altering their worlds.

Amelie performs her manipulations from afar, quietly watching her actions unfold. When it comes to more personal contact, like her relationship with her father, she shies away. Amelie realizes that the way to happiness requires her to take the initiative and reach out to others, when she falls for a young and mysterious Photomaton-image collector. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen), this offbeat romance should be a sure bet with the Oscar crowd.

- Advertisement -

Our Lady of the Assassins (Colombia)

In a rich and lush film directed by Barbet Schroeder (Reversal of Fortune), this tempestuous love story revolves around Fernando (German Jaramillo), an elderly gentleman who has returned to his crime and drug-ridden hometown of Medellin, Colombia. There he meets and falls madly in love with the alluring Alexis (Anderson Ballesteros), a 16-year-old assassin who enjoys his job a great deal.

When Alexis is gunned down, a distraught Fernando begins a frantic search for his lover’s killer in the Medellin slums. There he encounters Wilmar (Juan David Restrepo), a young man who looks almost exactly like Alexis. Schroeder directs yet another compelling story dealing with the lives of desperate people.

In Praise of Love (Switzerland)

Written and directed by 70-year-old French auteur Jean-Luc Godard, the film is a somewhat obscure but infinitely watchable study on love. The story starts with a director (of what, we aren’t sure) describing his project to wealthy producers. The director believes there are four key moments of love: meeting, physical passion, arguments/separation and making up.

In casting the project, the story unfolds through three couples, one young, one adult and one older. In Godard’s iconoclastic style, the ideas are thrown at the audience without any real solutions being made, but it’s a process we enjoy. A Cannes favorite this year, the Academy members will certainly take notice.

- Advertisement -