Foreign-language submissions already missing notable standouts
Oscar’s foreign-language film nominating committee has been shamed and excoriated in recent years for failing to nominate, or even shortlist, some of world cinema’s most critically embraced entries — most scandalously Romania’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (2007) and Italy’s “Gomorrah” (2008).
Some of the heat may be directed elsewhere this year: Awards watchers are already grumbling about oversights in this year’s race that occurred well before the org’s Stateside panels started work on the tricky business of sifting through the 65 pics submitted for consideration.
To the chagrin of many critics, Italy opted for Giuseppe Tornatore’s sentimental Sicilian family epic “Baaria” over Marco Bellocchio’s intense Mussolini drama “Vincere.” China passed on “City of Life and Death,” Lu Chuan’s controversial but widely lauded black-and-white re-creation of the Nanking massacre, in favor of Chen Kaige’s poorly reviewed “Forever Enthralled,” a glossy biopic of opera performer Mei Lanfang.
And then there’s “Lebanon,” Israeli helmer Samuel Maoz’s visceral shot-in-an-army-tank war drama, which rolled away with the Golden Lion at Venice — only to find itself shut out of the Oscar race when it lost the national Ophir film award to “Ajami,” a look at Israeli-Palestinian tensions in Jaffa.
Unlike Venice, the Cannes and Berlin fests do have their top dogs in the hunt. Peru selected Claudia Llosa’s “The Milk of Sorrow,” winner of the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale. And eyebrows will likely be raised if either of two Cannes heavyweights — Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner “The White Ribbon” (Germany) and Jacques Audiard’s Grand Prix honoree “A Prophet” (France) — doesn’t make it through to the final five.
Other Croisette faves submitted to the Academy include Canadian gay coming-of-ager “I Killed My Mother,” seeking an Oscar to accompany its three Directors’ Fortnight prizes; Romania’s dryly comic policer “Police, Adjective”; hard-luck love story “Samson and Delilah,” repping Oz in a resurgent year for Australian cinema; and South Korea’s “Mother,” Bong Joon-ho’s well-regarded follow-up to his smash hit, “The Host.”
By far the most unusual entry is the British-made documentary “Afghan Star.” The U.K., not often a factor in the foreign-language film race, benefited from the Academy’s recent rule change allowing films that are not in the submitting country’s primary language. The fact that “Afghan Star,” which features Pashtu and Dari dialogue, is a nonfiction work makes it an even more offbeat choice. Yet the film’s subject — the popularity of an “American Idol”-style reality series in the Middle East — makes it an ideal emblem for an industry, and an Oscar field, that becomes more globalized with every passing year.