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When the 2020 Oscar for original screenplay went to South Korea’s “Parasite” scribes (screenplay by Bong Joon Ho, Han Jin-Won; story by Bong), some were surprised, but they should not have been; the Academy has long been open to foreign-language contenders in all categories. As early as 1947, when the writing categories were a bit different, the Italian screenwriters Sergio Amidei and Federico Fellini nabbed a nomination for “Open City,” as did French scribe Jacques Prévert for “Children of Paradise.”

While during the 1940s and 1950s, barely a handful of foreign-language films reached the nomination stage for writing awards, by the 1960s, every year saw at least one non-English-speaking nominee, and some years, a whopping three. 1962 marked the first Oscar win for international scribes, with Ennio de Concini, Alfredo Gianetti and Pietro Germi claiming it for “Divorce Italian Style.” And in 1966, French screenwriters Claude Lelouch and Pierre Uytterhoeven nabbed a statuette for “A Man and a Woman.” 

Although foreign-language writers continued to be nominated through the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, international talent failed to score another win until 2002 when Pedro Almodóvar claimed the original screenplay prize for “Talk to Her.”

History proves that it is more common for films that are submitted for international feature to vie for other awards. Yet, occasionally, certain non-submitted foreign-language titles receive such an ecstatic response in the U.S. that their producers decide to contend in all other available categories against English-language powerhouses. India’s rousing action epic “RRR” is one such title. Telugu director-co-screenwriter S.S. Rajamouli says, “The reason why we are competing is purely because of the kind of response we had to the film; critics, film audiences, who constantly felt that we should compete in the Academy Awards.”

The narrative weaves a fictional story around two real-life figures who fought British rule. Rajamouli says he was inspired by films such as “Inglourious Basterds,” in which he was pleasantly shocked to see Hitler shot. It made him realize that conveying emotion to the audience is more important than historical accuracy.

Rajamouli co-writes with his father, veteran Telugu scribe Vijayendra Prasad. He explains, “How we work is that I create the explosive moments and he creates the foundation on which these set pieces can be built.” 

The writing process of this pair, who share a home, typically takes from eight months to a year. As he starts production, Rajamouli continuously consults with his dad, showing him rushes and soliciting his feedback. 

Director-writer Marie Kreutzer’s “Corsage,” Austria’s submission for international feature, is another title centering on a historical figure — Empress Elisabeth of Austria — that riffs on historical accuracy. And it is that clever, complex play that gives her screenplay a piquant edge. 

“I did really in-depth research, but took a lot of liberties with the content and form when turning it into a cinematic narrative,” Kreutzer says. “All the ‘mistakes’ in what we recount or depict were not something that simply happened when we were shooting, but were instead all artistic decisions.” 

Kreutzer notes that her star, Vicky Krieps, planted a seed for the project many years ago when she suggested that they make a “Sisi” film together. But unlike most Austrians, Kreutzer had not seen the trilogy starring Romy Schneider as the young Elisabeth. When she started her research, she discovered a phase in Elisabeth’s later life when she began to rebel against all the Imperial ceremony and started to withdraw and isolate herself. 

“I found that both extremely interesting and universal,” she says. 

Although when writing Kreutzer is more inspired by music and the mood boards she creates, she did watch some period films. She found Yorgos Lanthimos’s “The Favourite” stimulating in that she saw “you can just do it your own way.” 

“Holy Spider,” the Danish submission from Iran-born, Scandinavia-based helmer Ali Abbasi (“Border”), also spins a semi-fictional narrative around a real person, the Iranian serial killer Saeed Hanaei. Hanaei, a former soldier, fancied himself on a mission from God as he killed 16 female sex workers in the holy city of Mashhad between 2000 and 2001. 

Abbasi, who co-wrote the script with Afshin Kamran Bahrami, notes, “My intention was not to make a serial- killer movie. I wanted to make a movie about a serial-killer society. 

It is about the deep-rooted misogyny within Iranian society, which is not specifically religious or political but cultural. Thus, the script shows the range of opinions extant in Iranian society during that time; those who supported Hanaei and those who opposed him.

The script evolved over time. Abbasi says, “Early drafts followed the story faithfully but then I began asking myself why I was writing this movie. I wasn’t trying to recreate the events, I wanted to make a bigger point.” Eventually he gave himself license to deviate from the actual story, making the narrative of the female journalist as important as that of Hanaei.

Just as the layout of Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city, plays an important part in the script of “Holy Spider”, so, too, the natural landscape of mountains and sea proves essential to helmer Park Chan-wook’s “Decision to Leave,” South Korea’s submission. Co-written with his longtime collaborator Chung Seo-kyung, it is, Park says, “a story for adults.
 It’s a love story, and also a detective drama. But what I really want to emphasize is that it’s a story about loss that any adult will be able to relate to. Rather than treat it as a solid tragedy, I tried
to express it with subtlety, elegance and humor.” 

Park recalls that the script grew out of his desire to use two versions of a Korean song, “The Mist.” He notes, “Naturally, I thought that it should be a romance film set in a misty town. Second, I wanted to make a film featuring a detective character with a personality that I like, similar to my favorite police character Martin Beck from the Swedish detective novel series. I wanted to see a detective who was gentle, quiet, clean, polite and kind.” As he talked with his co-writer, the two stories merged into one and gradually took shape.

The Belgian Oscar entry “Close,” co-written by helmer Lukas Dhont and Angelo Tijssens (“Girl,” 2018) also tells a love story of sorts. It’s about two 13-year-old male best friends, whose seemingly unbreakable bond is suddenly, tragically torn apart. 

Dhont drew inspiration from the study “Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection” by developmental psychologist Dr. Niobe Way. She followed 150 boys from the ages of 13 to 18 and asked them to talk about their male friendships. “The testimonies at 13 are like reading love stories,” Dhont says. “They talk with an emotional vocabulary.” But by the age of 16 or 17, the boys have been conditioned to no longer use words more associated with feminine emotions.

With an idea in place, Dhont and Tijssens start by cooking and talking, trying to come to an essence from which to construct a dramaturgy. Then they look for a melody or choreography for the script. After those discussions, Dhont writes a first draft, which they go over together. He says, “Our language of writing is very close to and connected to the language of the body. When we think of our themes and characters, we develop ways to speak without using words. When we think of images and scenes, we think of them as visuals, sounds and music, and only when necessary spoken words. This is the language of cinema we have developed.”