Friday, February 23, 2007

Foreign Language Features in Oscar® Race

The nominees are:

Algeria, DAYS OF GLORY (Indigènes), Rachid Bouchareb, director.

Canada, WATER, Deepa Mehta, director.
Denmark, AFTER THE WEDDING, Susanne Bier, director.
Germany, THE LIVES OF OTHERS, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, director.
Mexico, PAN'S LABYRINTH, Guillermo del Toro, director.

All of the above are set during WW II, or relate to it in some way, save one, WATER, which is the only one I have seen. Before you continue, please read my post of 2 February.

Did that? Now, you are back? Good. Proceed.

Lets look at the country list again, this time noting the countries that have received a nomination, and/or have received a win since the category began with the 29th Academy Awards in 1956:

Algeria - 3 nominations, 1 win
Canada - 3 nominations, 1 win
Denmark - 6 nominations, 2 wins
Germany - 6 nominations, 1 win
Mexico - 6 nominations, 0 wins

Just in case you are interested, the top six countries nominated have been:
France - 34 noms, 9 wins
Italy - 27 noms, 10 wins
Spain - 19 noms, 4 wins
Sweden - 14 noms, 3 wins
Japan - 11 noms, 0 wins
U.S.S.R. - 9 noms, 3 wins

Statistics aside, the front-runner in this competition is without a doubt Guillermo del Toro's PAN'S LABYRINTH. Yet, when it comes to the Academy, the voters who must see all five nominated films to vote in this category seldom favor movies with magical, or surrealistic qualities. They tend to prefer their foreign-language movies served straight-up - strong linier story, simple, emotional, nostalgic, beautifully filmed, well acted, no frills. The final choice also depends upon how many females and males vote in the final round.

PAN'S LABYRINTH (Mexico, Guillermo del Toro, coping in Franco's rural Spain, 1944, WW II.) definitely has identity problems. A.O. Scott, wrote in the New York Times that Pan's Labyrinth, ". . . is a political fable in the guise of a fairy tale. Or maybe it's the other way around. Does the moral structure of the children's story - - with its clearly marked poles of good and evil, its narrative of dispossession and vindication - - illuminate the nature of authoritarian rule? Or does the movie reveal fascism as a terrible fairy tale brought to life?"

Here's the biggest irony. A Mexican making a film about Spain with a subject that still stirs mixed emotions within Spaniards. Because I can't see this film, I can only surmise that del Toro is bringing forward the works of Buñuel, Borau, Erice, Saura, and so many others of the New Spanish Cinema.

I have seen all of their movies. Yet, none of these directors were ever honored in this category, except for Luis Buñuel. He won for his French language version of THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOSISE (1972), nominated by France. Considering more irony, despite a number of nominations, Spain first won and Oscar in this category in1982 for TO BEGIN AGAIN, ten years after that award to Buñuel for a "French" movie.

PAN'S LABYRINTH, a Mexican/Spanish/USA co-production, swept the Spanish Goya Awards. Mexico has never won a foreign language Oscar®. It is overdue. Perhaps this is Mexico's year. PAN'S LABYRINTH is also nominated for: Original screenplay (Guillermo del Toro), achievement in art direction, achievement in cinematography (Guillermo Navarro), achievement in makeup, achievement in music - original score (Javier Navarrete from Spain), 6 nominations over-all.

THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Germany, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Cold War), working with and against the East German D.D.R.'s STASI toward the end of the Cold War is considered the movie that will give PAN the biggest competition. However, neither movie won a Golden Globe. That honor went to a movie that should have been in this category for the Oscars but couldn't be, because there is no mechanism in place in the U. S. to submit a foreign language movie made by an American to the Academy. I am referring to LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, Clint Eastwood director.

Will someone found an AMERICAN ACADEMY OF CINEMATIC ARTS in the U.S.A.? In this time when the Academy is going more international, we need another Academy in the U.S. to champion U.S. movies. An Academy that equally honors various genres in American cinema, and can nominate to AMPAS® in this category. Listening, George Lucas?

But, I digress.

WATER (Canada, Deepa Mehta), a film about India, with Indian actors, in two Indian languages plus some English is the third main contender. This movie portrays the treatment of widows in India in the 1930's, 175 years after India’s former colonial rulers outlawed sati, an ancient Hindu practice whereby a widow is obligated by law to burn herself alive on her husband’s funeral pyre. There are documentations of this practice in rural areas as late as last December, but this movie does not go there. Instead, it deals with the practice of disenfranchising widows in all areas of their lives by sending them away to live in poverty under the care of Hindu nuns, or whatever they are called.

WATER's director, a female, was born in Indian but has been based in Toronto, Canada, for most of her life. She began filming in India around 2001. It was immediately shut down, the set dismantled and thrown in the Ganges River, because Hindus considered it dangerous to the Hindu religion. It was finally filmed in Sri Lanka, and is the bookend to two of her previous movies FIRE and EARTH, completing the trilogy.

This film is a long shot in this category, but it has all those things voting Academy members like: a cause, made under difficult conditions, beautiful cinematography, excellent editing, handsome actor (John Abraham) and beautiful lead actress (Lisa Ray) both of Bollywood fame, exotic locale, great love story, linier, simple, emotional, and nostalgic with a social conscience. If more women members vote in this category in the final round, its chances are enhanced.

I would vote for this one. Sorry, PAN'S fans, but I think WATER is excellent. If the votes for either of the leaders from Mexico and Germany are not overwhelming, WATER's chances are enhanced. When, and if, I see PAN, I reserve the right to amend my choice and offer a mea culpa.

As to the other two? Well, I don't know enough about either to vote for or against. They are: AFTER THE WEDDING (Denmark, Susanne Bier, after WW II), A manager of an orphanage in India is sent to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he discovers a life-altering family secret; and DAYS OF GLORY (Indigènes, Algeria, Rachid Bouchareb, WW II), Four North African men enlist in the French army to liberate that country from Nazi oppression, and to fight French discrimination.

Good luck in making your decision!

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