Foreign fare could break out of its category box

'Volver,' 'Black Book' among likely BAFTA contenders

LONDON — You have to go all the way back to 1997 to find a year when the British Academy Film Awards didn’t bestow at least one nomination on a foreign-language movie, outside the category specifically reserved for such films.

The 2007 BAFTAs look a good bet to continue the run, with perennial BAFTA favorite Pedro Almodovar having delivered the crowdpleasing and critically acclaimed “Volver” and Paul Verhoeven getting rave reviews for his Dutch comeback “Black Book.”

BAFTA has a soft spot for foreign femmes, so Penelope Cruz for “Volver” and Carice van Houten for “Black Book” could sneak into the actress race, particularly if van Houten, previously unknown in Blighty, charms voters at Q&A screenings.

Still, for most foreign movies, their best hope is to figure in the running for best film not in the English language. Pics getting a push from their distribs include Bollywood movie “Rang de basanti,” Hungarian film “Fateless,” France’s “Gabrielle” and Argentina’s “Buenos Aires, 1977.” Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” is also being released in late November, just the right time to pick up votes.

This is one category where campaigning clearly does pay off, because so few distribs actually do it. So few foreign-language screeners are sent out that those that are have a high chance of getting noticed.

The BAFTAs differ from the Oscars because the general membership votes for the foreign-film nominees, although the winner is decided by jury. Over the past eight years, BAFTA has delivered mainstream nods to “Life Is Beautiful,” “All About My Mother,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Amelie,” “The Warrior,” “Talk to Her,” “City of God,” “The Barbarian Invasions,” “In This World,” “The Motorcycle Diaries,” “House of Flying Daggers” and “Tsotsi.”

Almodovar controversially beat three local favorites — Sam Mendes, Anthony Minghella and Neil Jordan — for the director prize for “All About My Mother” and took the original screenplay prize for “Talk to Her.” But even though foreign-language pics have won BAFTAs for director (Ang Lee for “Crouching Tiger” and Almodovar), screenplay (“Amelie” and “Talk to Her”), and even best British film and Brit newcomer (“The Warrior”) over the past 10 years, they haven’t won best film since “Jean de Florette” in 1987.

And then there’s the wild card to end all wild cards — Mel Gibson’s Mayan-language “Apocalypto.” Brits tend to be less bothered by political correctness than their Stateside brethren, so if the movie turns out to be a masterpiece, Gibson’s personal failings won’t stop BAFTA members from voting for it.

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