For countries in the English-speaking world, entries into the foreign-language Oscar race offer a chance to reflect on the complexity of their own cultures or examine their place in the wider world.
After digging into its colonial past last year in Francois Girard’s Quebec-set “Hochelaga, Land of Souls,” Canada enters the Oscar race with Sophie Dupuis’ “Family First.” Set in a gritty working-class neighborhood, Dupuis’ low-budget feature debut is about a Montreal family bound together by a life of crime. Canada, which took home the foreign-language Oscar in 2003 with Denys Arcand’s “The Barbarian Invasions,” has scored four nominations and three shortlist spots in the past 12 years.
Australia landed its first nomination in 2016 with “Tanna,” a Nauvhal-language romance about two young lovers defying local mores that was the first film ever shot on the island of Vanuatu. This year’s submission for the foreign-language race, “Jirga,” follows a former Australian soldier who returns to Afghanistan to make amends, three years after accidentally killing a civilian in a raid.
Buccaneering helmer Benjamin Gilmour had planned to shoot the film in Pakistan, the setting of his acclaimed feature debut, “Son of a Lion.” But the Pakistani secret service blocked production after reading Gilmour’s script; instead, he shot “Jirga” on the sly in Afghanistan, dodging Taliban militants and ISIS-aligned groups along the way.
No bullets fly in Pietra Brettkelly’s “Yellow Is Forbidden,” the Kiwi submission for the foreign-language race, but no less daunting was the challenge for the documentary’s subject, Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei, to ascend to the heights of French fashion at Paris’ famed Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Pic has enjoyed a lively festival run since its Tribeca premiere, and it marks the second time that Brettkelly has been selected to represent New Zealand, which is yet to earn a nomination.