×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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.

More Film

  • Woody Allen Developing Next Film With

    Woody Allen Teams with Spain’s Mediapro for Next Film

    MADRID — Woody Allen is re-teaming with Spain’s Mediapro, one of Europe’s biggest independent film-TV companies, to develop his next film with an eye it seems to shooting in Spain. Mediapro co-financed and co-produced two of Allen’s highest-grossing movies, 2008’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” which grossed $96.4 million worldwide, and 2011’s “Midnight in Paris” which earned [...]

  • 'Stitches' Review: Berlin Film Festival

    Berlin Film Review: 'Stitches'

    An elegant hybrid of true-story exposé and slow-moving arthouse thriller, Serbian director Miroslav Terzić’s sober sophomore feature “Stitches” takes a familiar idea — a lone crusader taking on a corrupt system in pursuit of the truth — but delivers an unusually thoughtful, psychologically compelling character study. Taking its cue from Snežana Bogdanović’s eerily composed but fathomless [...]

  • Aruna and Her Palate review

    Berlin Film Review: ‘Aruna & Her Palate’

    When mouthwatering Indonesian cuisine and romance are on the table, “Aruna & Her Palate” is a bouncy crowd-pleaser. Less tasty is the backdrop of a suspected bird flu outbreak that brings a food-loving epidemiologist into contact with her secret crush. Adapted from Laksmi Pamuntjak’s 2014 novel “The Bird Woman’s Palate,” “Aruna” manages to overcome its [...]

  • 'Duke' Review: Two Fake Cops Patrol

    Film Review: 'Duke'

    If you can envision “Let’s Be Cops” reconstituted as a noirish psychodrama, you may be adequately prepared for “Duke,” an uneven but arresting indie thriller about two siblings who are driven to heroic extremes by childhood traumas. Co-directed by twin brothers James and Anthony Gaudioso, who also appear in strikingly different supporting roles, the film [...]

  • Greek Director Probes Deeper Issues in

    Greek Director Probes Deeper Issues in Berlin Festival Film 'Sargasso Sea'

    After a sudden suicide turns a small eel-farming town upside down, an investigation unearths troubling secrets about the town’s past. Those discoveries will bring together two women trapped in solitary lives, offering each a chance to find salvation. “The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea” is the third feature by Greek director Syllas Tzoumerkas. Starring frequent [...]

  • Xavier Legrand Custody

    France's Cesar Awards Leads the Way for the Oscars

    Since 2011, France’s Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma has steadfastly held its annual awards ceremony the Friday before the Academy Awards. And if launching the Césars two days before the Oscars holds a real, practical benefit — allowing those walking both red carpets time to linger over their last flutes of Champagne before [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content