LONDON — Ukraine has surprised many awards observers by selecting Oles Sanin’s little known nationalist period epic “The Guide” as its entry for the Academy Awards’ foreign-language category rather than the critically lauded edgy contempo drama “The Tribe.”
“The Guide” tells the story of a blind folk musician and an American boy on the run in 1930s Soviet Union. Pic starts with a U.S. businessman and his 10-year-old son arriving in Kharkiv, the second-largest city in what is now Ukraine but then part of the Soviet Union. The father is hoping to set up a tractor business in the region, but falls foul of Stalin’s secret police, and is murdered. The boy goes on the run with the help of the musician.
The decision was made by the Ukrainian Oscar Committee, which was set up by Ukraine’s Association of Producers. There were three films on the shortlist: “The Guide,” Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s “The Tribe” and Anatoliy Mateshko’s “Trumpeter.”
Most awards observers were expecting “The Tribe” to be Ukraine’s choice. The film won the Grand Prize and two other awards at Critics’ Week in Cannes, and was picked up by Drafthouse Films for a North American release, as well as a raft of other foreign buyers.
“The Tribe” is set at a Ukrainian boarding school for the deaf, where the residents have turned to thuggery and prostitution. Pic, which is performed entirely in sign language, was an “audacious coup de cinema,” according to Variety’s critic Justin Chang, who added it was “breathtakingly controlled, riveting even at its most inscrutable.”
The film’s other Cannes prizes were the Visionary Award and the Gan Foundation support for distribution.