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The Academy of Motion Pictures has released a list of 71 films from foreign countries -- including first-time entrant Kenya -- that have been submitted for consideration for best foreign language film for the 85th Academy Awards. Some of these films screened at the New York Film Festival, which, in its 50th year, is having its strongest season ever.
They include the Italian selection for best film, Caesar Must Die, a black-and-white film directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. Shot to look like a documentary, it's set in a high-security prison in Rome where the inmates put on a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. While performing they interject details about their own personal lives, suffering and crimes; they are all hard-core criminals, who also happen to be talented actors.
The Taviani brothers have been hard on the festival circuit promoting their film, since the actors cannot; all but one, the excellent Salvatore Striano, who plays Brutus, are in the slammer, some of them with life sentences. The film won the Golden Bear Award at the most recent Berlin Film Festival. At the NYFF press conference the duo were particularly entertaining with Paolo, 81, happy to be the straight man to his older brother, Vittorio, 83, who is the talkative one.
The Romanian entry, Beyond the Hills, directed by Cristian Mungiu, is a disappointing follow up to his excellent Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days. Set in a convent in Romanian, it is about two young women who forged a close relationship -- most probably sexual -- while growing up in the same orphanage. One of them becomes a nun, while the other young woman, who is obsessed and in love with her, becomes desperate to get her to leave the convent and go with her to Germany. The two leads, Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur, shared the best actress award at this summer's Cannes Film Festival.
The basis of Our Children, by Belgium director Joachim Lafosse, comes from a news story about a housewife and mother of four who commits an unthinkable act. At the press conference, where the director was interviewed on Skype, he said that his intention was to show that the mother "was not a monster." This movie had journalists talking well after the press conference was over.
German director Christian Petzoid's Barbara is a 1980’s Cold War thriller. Nina Hoss, the charismatic star, plays a physician planning to defect while exiled to a small town in East Germany. There's an undercurrent of menace and a fascinating look at how the Stasi, the East German secret police, ran their operations. There's also some cool disco music on the soundtrack because Petzoid likes disco -- especialy Chic -- and because the East German government disapproved of it.
From Chile comes Pablo Larrain's No, which stars an excellent low-key Gael Garcia Bernal as a brilliant Chilean advertising executive René Saavedra who organizes the 1988 campaign to unseat the nototious dictator Augusto Pinochet. This film is shot in a grainy, documentary style to capture the real-life event that toppled the military regime. The savvy, witty film received a lot of buzz at Cannes where it was shown at the Directors' Fortnight and although popular by the critics it is an underdog for best foreign film Oscar.
I liked the Israeli film, Fill the Void, directed by Rama Burshtein, making her dramatic feature-directing debut. The film is an inside look at Israel's closed orthodox Hassidic community in Tel Aviv as seen though the eyes of Shira, an 18 year old girl, who is anxiously waiting to hear about a marriage match she desires. When her sister dies giving birth to a son her mother pressures Shira to marry her brother-in-law and the dilemma makes for an aborbing and well-acted drama.
The film is so lushly and beautifully shot that the men in their boxy hats and the women in their ornate, oddly designed garb seemed to have stepped out of a tableaux of a Jewish Raphael painting. Although Burshtein's film is a long shot for an Oscar, Fill the Void is so good it makes you look forward to her follow up effort.
My money is on Michael Haneke's Amour from Austria to win the best foreign film Oscar. It's impossible to imagine a more exquisite and beautiful film. The film won the Palme D'Or. Acting legends Jean-Lous Trintignant (Z, The Conformist, Three Colors: Red) and Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima, Mon Amour) star as an elderly couple, happily married for more than half a century, they are now facing the end of their lives as the wife becomes partially paralyzed after a stroke. It's not exactly cheery -- the chic crowd in Cannes was sobbing -- but the film is so beautifully acted and directed, without being sentimental or manipulative, that it is simply transcendent.
According to Variety, this year Iran bowed out of the Oscar race in protest against the U.S.-made anti-Islam video denigrating the Prophet Muhammad. This is particularly regrettable since Iran has so many strong directors. Last year it won its first Oscar in the best foreign language film category with Asghar Farhadi's family drama, A Separation.
The 85th Academy Awards nominations will be announced live on Thursday, January 10, 2013, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater.
The Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2012 will be presented on Sunday, February 24, 2013, at The Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center, and will be televised live on the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries.
Below is a list of the Academy's 71 films submitted for the foreign film race in 2012:
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