×

Oscar Foreign-Language: Latin American Films Go Easy on the Edgy

The year 2016 isn’t exactly overflowing with unmissable movies from Latin America. This despite producing, on a steady and annual basis, some of the most interesting cinema anywhere.

So it might be wise to tamp down expectations that this year’s roster of films (14 total) submitted for consideration for the foreign-language Oscar will produce some kind of world-beater.

There’s always the tricky consideration that what might be terrific cinema isn’t the right strategic pick for a given country’s industry reps to submit to the Academy.

Take, for example, three strong, uncompromising, sometimes even brilliant films: two from Argentina, Eduardo Williams’ “The Human Surge,” and Nele Wohlatz’s “The Future Perfect,” and one from Mexico, Amat Escalante’s “Untamed.”

These films may have dazzled crowds, juries, and critics at major festivals, but none were submitted, and it’s possible these movies’ wild, and wildly experimental strokes wouldn’t play well with the Academy’s foreign-language committee’s still-conservative tastes.

Two films are in the contenders conversation: Pablo Larrain’s “Neruda” from Chile and Jonas Cuaron’s Mexican border thriller, “Desierto,” both starring Gael Garcia Bernal. Larrain’s account of how poet-politician Pablo Neruda eluded a manhunt foisted by his right-wing foes is ambiguous to the end about whether its poet hero just may be a scoundrel (or that its fascist cop, played by Bernal, may be a good guy after all). Cuaron’s movie is essentially an elaborate chase sequence stretched to feature length.

More exciting is rising Venezuelan filmmaker Lorenzo Vigas’ “From Afar,” Venice’s 2015 Golden Lion winner.

It finds fascinating character layers as it steadily builds a tense and unexpected relationship between a Caracas street hustler and a middle-aged man who makes, of all things, dental work.

Best of all, Jose Luis Rugeles displays a formidable balance of craft and storytelling art in “Alias Maria,” his powerful adventure and character study of a teen girl in Colombia’s Farc guerrilla army faced with an impossible assignment.

Some picks are, at best, odd. It may have won a Tiger prize in Rotterdam, but Juan Daniel Fernandez’s Peruvian youth adventure “Videophilia (and Other Viral Syndromes)” is a hot mess on the screen, while, Gaston Duprat’s mild Argentine satire, “The Distinguished Citizen” (for which Oscar Martinez won the lead actor prize in Venice) lands only soft and fleeting blows at small-town backwardness and cultural snobbery.

These titles will be competing with Julia Vargas-Weise’s stilted Bolivian thriller, “Sealed Cargo”; Pavel Giroud’s Cuban drama, “The Companion”; Ecuadorean Sebastian Cordero’s political thriller, “Such Is Life in the Tropics”; Ricardo Aguilar Navarro and Manuel Rodriguez’s drama, “Salsipuedes,” and a romantic-comedy from Costa Rica, Hernan Jimenez’s “About Us.”

Two were unavailable to watch: Fernando Baez Mella’s Dominican Republic film, “Flor de Azucar,” and Manane Rodriguez’s “Breadcrumbs,” from Uruguay.
And back to those strategic considerations. Unfortunately for competing melodrama “Little Secret,” the film was slotted by Brazil over Kleber Mendonca Filho’s magnificent drama starring Sonia Braga, “Aquarius,” in what’s widely interpreted as punishment for Mendonca’s protest during Cannes over the then-impending impeachment of Brazil’s impeached President Dilma Rousseff.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • "Birds of Prey" egg sandwich

    'Birds of Prey' Actor Bruno Oliver Recreates Harley Quinn's Famous Sandwich

    When actor Bruno Oliver booked the role of short order cook Sal in “Birds of Prey: (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” he had no idea how significant Sal and his breakfast sandwich were to the story. “You couldn’t tell from the audition necessarily and as actors, we always worry about our scenes [...]

  • Minyan

    'Minyan': Film Review

    Best known for the unexpectedly soul-shattering San Francisco suicide doc “The Bridge,” indie filmmaker Eric Steel came out and came of age in 1980s New York at a moment just before AIDS devastated the city’s gay community. Such timing must have been surreal, to assume something so liberating about one’s own identity, only to watch [...]

  • Animated Movie 'The Queen's Corgi' Fetches

    Film New Roundup: Animated Movie 'The Queen's Corgi' Fetches North American Distribution

    In today’s film news roundup, “The Queen’s Corgi” finds a home, the Overlook Film Festival is postponed and the California Film Commission adjusts its tax credit rules due to the coronavirus. ACQUISITION Freestyle Digital Media has acquired North American rights to the animated family comedy feature “The Queen’s Corgi,” and plans to make it available on DVD and to [...]

  • APA Logo

    APA Sets Salary Cuts and Furloughs in Wake of Covid-19 Pandemic

    Following in the steps of several agencies dealing with the coronavirus, APA has informed all offices of upcoming salary cuts along with possible suspensions and furloughs for employees due to the pandemic’s economic effect on the industry. APA board of directors will make the largest financial sacrifice. The move has been made to avoid layoffs [...]

  • SAG-AFTRA HQ

    DGA, SAG-AFTRA, WGA Scramble to Keep Residuals Flowing During Coronavirus Pandemic

    Hollywood’s creative guilds have been working overtime to keep residual checks going out to members during the coronavirus crisis. Even though most of the staff members of the Directors Guild of America, SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America West have been working remotely, the guilds have stepped up efforts to maintain the flow of [...]

  • Hannah Marks, Dylan Sprouse. Hannah Marks,

    How a Bart Simpson T-Shirt Delayed Dylan Sprouse’s Movie ‘Banana Split’

    Long before the release of “Booksmart,” actress Hannah Marks set out to make a movie that would be the female bookend to “Superbad.” She started writing the script eight years ago, at 18, based on a real-life story about how, in high school, she befriended the girlfriend of her ex-boyfriend. Many drafts followed for “Banana [...]

  • Ryan Reynolds'6 Underground' film premiere, Arrivals,

    Ryan Reynolds in Talks to Star in 'Dragon's Lair' Film Adaptation for Netflix

    Ryan Reynolds is in talks to star in and produce a live-action feature adaptation of the ’80s arcade game “Dragon’s Lair” for Netflix. Roy Lee will produce through his Vertigo Entertainment with Trevor Engelson of Underground Films. Don Bluth, Gary Goldman and Jon Pomeroy are also producing. Reynolds will produce through his Maximum Effort production [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content