Every year in the lead up to the Academy Awards, there is plenty of buzz surrounding every major category. So much so, you could likely enter your office betting pool with a fair idea of what your safe bets would be, whether you had seen some of the films or not. But what about the under-discussed categories? What about those films that flew under your radar? Some of the best movies of the year aren’t contending for Best Picture. Before you start to panic in the remaining hours before the big event, fear not, because we here at Audiences Everywhere are stepping in to break down everything you need to know. Whether you’re trying to win a bet, attempting to sound savvy at your Oscar viewing party, or just wanting to add to your must-watch list, consider this your cheat sheet for this year’s nominees for Best Foreign Language Film.
This year’s list of Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Language Film have taken us all over the world. From Turkey to Columbia, these films have shown us the overwhelming power of the human spirit while showcasing the artistry that exists outside of our borders. Whether it was a film focused on female empowerment like Mustang, or films focused on the impact of war, as many of nominees did, each of these foreign features displayed a unique vision and had a lasting effect on us.
Mustang, like many of the film’s present at this year’s Oscars subtly exemplifies feminism within its larger criticism of society. Its story, of five sisters forced into marriage after they are caught innocently playing with a group of boys from school, resonates with a yearning for freedom. The film is dreamy and ephemeral, as their innocence and carefree personalities are destroyed by their surroundings; yet the film remains light, and oddly funny. Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Mustang is a great example of empowered female filmmaking- beautiful, with a strong message at its core which warns the newer generations of the dangers of conservatism.
Jordan’s first Oscar nomination, Theeb boasts a fairly simplistic plot, of a young boy escorting a British officer during the height of the first World War, and, subsequently being thrust into adulthood. With visuals that find enchanting beauty in the vast expanse of the Middle East, the film emphasizes the natural world, putting on display a gritty, if not a bit dull, coming of age tale. Underwhelming as a whole, it does have carry itself with a sense of tension that stems from the spontaneity and unpredictability of the conflict, and has a powerful ending that puts its themes of brotherhood and survival in perspective.
Son of Saul (Hungary)
The current frontrunner in this Oscar group is definitely deserving of its acclaim. Son of Saul, the impossibly confident directorial debut of László Nemes, has been picking up awards left and right on the awards circuit, including the Golden Globe for best foreign film, and the Grand Prize of the Jury at Cannes Film Festival. The film follows a Sonderkommando, or, a Jewish person forced to work at a death camp, after he finds the cadaver of a boy he believes to be his son and dedicates his remaining time to give the child a proper burial. Rather than focus on the atrocities of the time, however, Son of Saul frames the majority of itself around its protagonist’s visage, drained of all emotion (Géza Röhrig, in his film debut is powerful here). By doing so, Son of Saul refuses to manipulate us with images, instead we are bludgeoned by the effects of the surroundings on the individual. Our imaginations, forced to run wilder, make the overall experience of the film perversely stronger. It is unsentimental, yet emotionally harrowing, a film of disillusionment, guilt, and clouded judgement, symbolically heavy and aptly ambiguous.
Embrace the Serpent (Colombia)
Admittedly, I wasn’t able to catch Embrace of the Serpent. How does the Academy accurately vote for films like this and A War, which don’t get released until a week before the Oscars and hardly play anywhere else? In lieu of a review, here’s an article in which James Franco reviews the film with himself!
A War (Denmark)
Similar to Tobias Lindholm’s 2012 piracy drama A Hijacking, which focused on the titular event in a meticulous and procedural manner, A War takes a look at the morality and ethics behind not only the occupation in Afghanistan, but also, the codes we force our soldiers to abide by. After calling an airstrike on a compound in enemy territory, without ensuring that no civilians would become collateral, in order to save his fellow soldiers, company commander Claus Pedersen is forced home and indicted in court. What follows is an incredibly well acted, well directed film. Pilou Asbaek commands the screen with a subtle grace, and the other performances and subtleties – the language barrier, the soldiers messing around – all add to the tension and realism present. A War does not care for the cheap thrills afforded by illustrious action sequences and melodrama, but rather, poses an often unsentimental dissemination on ramifications of each action that are forgotten in the moment.
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