At a time where subtitled fare is not breaking any records at the U.S. box office, many distributors of for-eign-language pics turn to the Golden Globes for an opportunity to stir some interest in their products.
“The Globe works in subtle ways,” says Gramercy prexy Russel Schwartz, distributor of Belgian nominee “The Eighth Day.”
“It’s impossible to say what a win will mean at the box office, but it definitely helps make the press aware of the film’s existence. If one does win, the window between the win and the nomination process for the Oscars would also be of value,” he adds.
Stacey Spikes, VP of marketing at October Films, agrees. “It’s a very important awards show. A foreign-language Globe can work in many different ways. If your film hasn’t gotten enough exposure it’ll always help, and in terms of the Oscars it has a significant impact,” he says.
To be eligible for a foreign-language Golden Globe, the pics must first have been released theatrically in the sub-mitting nation during the past calendar year. Their dialogue tracks also must be basically non-English, though there is no specification.
Since there is no limit on how many movies each country can submit, one of the biggest tasks for the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. is to pick out the actual nominees.
“It’s always hard to find the top five. You often miss a couple, but that’s how it works,” says Yani Begakis, chairman of the foreign-language committee and a Globe voter since 1959.
When it comes to this year’s favorites, most HFPA members note that the race is very open. Nevertheless, two movies often are mentioned when they are pressed to pick a winner.
“It’s probably going to be between ‘Kolya’ and ‘Ridicule,’ but I don’t think this is the year you want to bet your life savings,” says Marlene von Arx, an HFPA member and a Globe voter. Her colleague Noel de Souza shares her opinion.
“I like ‘Kolya’ and ‘Ridicule.’ They both have strong scripts and are high-quality films,” he says.
Many observers, including Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan, isn’t surprised. In his eyes, Globe voters have a tendency to go with mainstream and sentimental fare. Not all HFPA members agree.
“We have a very good track record compared with the Oscars over the years. HFPA isn’t any different from any other critic or audience. We look for quality films where you can identify with the character and situation,” Noel de Souza says.
Most industry observers are reluctant to guess who’ll get the nod, and the explanation is simple. Only a few outside the HFPA have seen all the nominated foreign movies. Most of these films stilling are looking for a Stateside distributor or haven’t been screened widely enough, which is somewhat symbolic of the problems foreign-language pics generally are struggling with today. Sure, the Italian movie “Il Postino” (The Postman) made a splash last year, but it didn’t generate a bigger audience for other foreign films.
“They’re in desperate straits,” says Peter Travers, film critic at Rolling Stone magazine. “Indies have distracted much of the interest. No one seems to have the patience for subtitles anymore. Think of the 1970s, when Bergman, Truffaut and Fellini were celebrated and people actually went and saw the movies. Today foreign films are ‘ghettoized.’ We pay attention only if we have nothing else to do,” he states.
When it comes to his own favorite foreign-language movie of the year, Travers mentions Claude Chabrol’s “La Ceremonie” (The Ceremony), which didn’t receive a Globe nomination. However, he has little doubt about which film is going to receive the award Jan. 19.
“I think they’ll go with ‘Ridicule.’ It’s distributed by Miramax and has gotten a lot of publicity. Normally the one with the highest profile will get it,” he says.
When it comes to the quality of this year’s entries, most agree the standards are quite high. “More films are being made around the world than we’ve seen in 50 years, and there are some gems out there,” Begakis says. “This year’s crop is at least as good as last year’s, if not a little better.”
So, what’s the chairman of the foreign-language committee’s own favorite? “I liked ‘Kolya’ very much,” he replies. “It’s very tender, and I’m a sentimentalist.”