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Oct 24 2013

CIFF Report: The Foreign Film candidates

Tim here,with a report from theothermajor U.S.film festival of October.The Chicago International Film Festival is,with reason,regarded as minor compared to the likes of Toronto and New York – no major premieres,few celebrities,only a couple of the big upcoming awards players.The flipside is that's it's absolutely lousy with interesting little films that won't ever get a significant North American release,so even if it's rough for Oscar watching,it's hard to complain as a Midwestern cinephile.

Having said that,let's turn to Oscar watching.I had an opportunity to see several of the films on the 76-title deeplist of submissionsfor the Foreign Language Film Oscar,and I'd like to share my thoughts on their respective chances at making it onto the ultimate list of nominees.Let's go alphabetically by country.

ARGENTINAThe German Doctor
In which a German-Argentine woman and her family inadvertently give aid and comfort to one of the most notorious of all escaped Nazis.
My feelings (and review):The film keeps acting like it wants to break out and be more garish and horrifying than it ever quite manages to be,and it's probably for the best that it doesn't.The script probably isn't as smart as it means to be,but the fact-based story is interesting and surprisingly tense.
Oscar prognosis:"Nazi"is a magic word for this category,and I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see this make the nine-film longlist.It's a little domestic and tonally off-kilter for where the category tends to live,but the subject matter is spot-on,and the Academy tends to favor Argentina more than other South American countries.

HUNGARYThe Notebook
In which twin boys sent to live in the country during World War II teach themselves to become emotionless monsters to stave off pain and suffering.
My feelings:There's honestly a little bit of misery for misery's sake going on here.But it has a diffuse,fairy tale feeling that makes the story more unusual than it seems from a plot synopsis,or even the opening act,and Piroska Molnár is terrific as the boys' beastly grandmother.
Oscar prognosis:Children surviving World War II + sleekly austere cinematography?That's the very definition of what they love in this category.Definitely the likeliest of everything I've seen to make into the final five.

In which a working class family ends up on the wrong side of a drug cartel's rather explicitly-demonstrated brutality.
My feelings: The best non-documentary film I saw at CIFF.The Cannes Best Director win is richly deserved;it's a grim,unsparing piece of audience abuse,but it's all focused in an incredibly clear way,to bring home the hellish reality of life in a corrupt,violence-filled Mexico.
Oscar prognosis:If Steven Spielberg's Cannes jury could give it a major award,the sky feels like the limit,but this is a dark,dark movie.The violence isn't as extreme as advertised,nor does it take up all that much screentime,but it lingers: this is a desperately unpleasant movie to watch.It has social righteousness on its mind,which helps,but I think this one ultimately just misses out on the bake-off list.

In which an inhuman being in the guise of a homeless man causes all sorts of nastiness in the lives of a detached rich family.
My feelings:I loved it,but this is exactly the kind of movie doomed to have a small core of passionate partisans and a large group of people turned off by its content,its deliberately confusing storytelling style,or its complete abandonment of coherence in the last 20 minutes.
Oscar prognosis:No chance.It's too cryptic,too hard to puzzle out,and too misanthropic.

POLANDWalesa: Man of Hope
In which a passionate loudmouth becomes one of the political leaders of the anti-Communist movement in 1970s Poland.
My feelings:A virtually flawless biopic,with an outstanding lead performance by Robert Wieckiewicz.Andrzej Wajda,the great icon of Polish cinema,blends the personal and the revolutionary together in one crisp-moving and thoroughly involving story that digs into the meat of its subject with an awful lot of candor for what could easily be a hagiography.
Oscar prognosis:Wajda's name carries a lot of cachet,but this is averypolitically-laden movie,and those politics are A) Polish,B) thirty and forty years old.It's handsome and accomplished,but I don't see how enough voters will have an "in"with this material.

In which a young man who may be possessed by an evil spirit commits crimes,which his father then hides.
My feelings:A remarkable mixture of horror and domestic drama,both of them told from a distinctly East Asian perspective,makes it thoroughly unique,for one thing.It's also beautifully shot and put together in an elliptical way that gives it a strange and appealing gracefulness.
Oscar prognosis:Artfully violent and mostly f'ed-up: if there's a precedent,it'sDogtoothin 2010,which everybody agrees was a complete aberration.Too arty for horror buffs and too genre for the more conservative art film lovers,I see it struggling to find a U.S.audience.

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Reader Comments (6)

i know that this is essentially a rave for HELI but your description means I hope to never ever see it.BORGMAN on the other hand i'm so excited to find.and anyway.i love these reports but then this race is one that always fascinates me.there's ALWAYS enough interesting work to make a great lineup even though sometimes they foul it up.

October 24,2013 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Off-Topic (but sort of on),I would like to recommend a film called La Jaula de Oro (The Golden Cage),which is Mexico's submission to the Goya Awards this year and I think they would have had a better chance with it at the Oscars because even though it's also about a rather unpleasant topic,亚博主页it' mixed in with a humanist touch that makes the film not only watchable,but endearing (it's going to screen at the AFI fest,I don't know if anyone's going,I saw it at the Morelia Film Festival).Another great film from Mexico I just saw over here is one called Los Insólitos Peces-Gato (The Amazing Cat-Fish).The competition at this year's festival has been fierce....

October 25,2013 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

@Richter Scale: I lovedLa Jaula de Orotoo and am surprised in some ways that Mexico didn't opt for that as their contender.But I lovedHelias well.Two great movies,but easy to see which one AMPAS types would prefer.

I might disagree with Tim aboutWałęsa's hopes.I wouldn't be stunned to see it win and might even be surprised if itdoesn'tat least show up on the long list.A lot of Academy members were around for this history and remember it fondly,and when history is served up to them this juicily,plummily,and charismatically,I think they'd go for it.Easier to get behind thanBaader Meinhofor even Wajda's ownKatyn,and those two both scored noms.I wishBorgmanhad a chance,but I agree that it probably doesn't.Did you seeMissing Pictureyet?

October 25,2013 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Borgmansounds likeTeorema.Or am I reading that description wrong?

October 25,2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Borgman is Van Warmerdam's best film since his masterpiece The Northerners.He's never directed a film that I would rate below a 7.5/10.Will it be difficult to get a nominations?Yes,absolutely.
Belgium,Denmark,Iran,Italy,Saoudi Arabia should be on the short-list.

October 25,2013 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

Tim,the Chicago festival sounds a lot like the Montréal one...i.e.lots of great films what you'll never see elsewherer,but no real hot North American Oscar prospects.

I did see Wakolda there in August,and somehow doubt that it will make the Foreign-Language Oscar shortlist,much less get a nomination.I think that I may have liked it more than you did,but I really felt that it should have been rather better than it actually was.

October 25,2013 | Unregistered CommenterBill_the_Bear

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