Saturday, February 23, 2008

Disappointing Foreign Film Oscar®

This is the first year since the best foreign-language film category (BFLF) was established for the 29th Academy Awards® in 1956, that this category thoroughly disappoints me. It is disappointing because the foreign movies that have been judged best by film festivals and other legitimate awarding organizations were shut out of the competition by self-appointed committees, and stifling rules.

It is also disappointing because the Academy seems to have forgotten why the category was begun in the first place, loading the qualification rules with insufferable specifications, and providing ways to cut some submitted films off by their knees. When it first began, the films were to be in the native language of the submitting country, and be of exceptional acting and cinematic quality for a an outside-of-Hollywood movie. The goal being to find such films and filmmakers, and help provide their distribution so that they might obtain a wider audience through an Oscar nomination and /or win.

One of the most awarded foreign movies of 2007 is the Romanian movie, 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS (4 runi, 3 saptamini SI si 2 zile), directed by Cristian Mungiu. It won the Golden Palm as Best Film at Cannes, the Best European Feature in the European Awards, plus many other awards. Naturally, Romania submitted it for the BFLF Oscar®, only to see it fail to meet the first cut by the first selection committee. The L. A. Weekly, and others, called it, ". . . the best foreign film of the year."

So, were the committees appointed to screen the 63 submitted movies and cut the list from which the nominees would be chosen down to only nine, totally unaware of the awards the Romanian movie had won, or was it because the movie is about abortion?

Then, there was the denial of Taiwanese director Ang Lee's LUST, CAUTION. The Academy ruled that not enough of the actors and production staff were actually from Taiwan. Or, was it because some were afraid adults might learn about the Karma Sutra?

Another controversial absence involved the disqualification of Israel's THE BAND'S VISIT, because more than 50 percent of the dialogue between an Egyptian band and Israeli villagers is in English, albeit mostly broken English. Again, it comes down to an archaic insistence on language as the ground rule in the 21st Century where filmmakers are making multi-lingual movies through multi-country co-productions.

Language caused the French Academy to misstep by submitting the animated feature PERSEPOLIS in the BFLF category, which did not even make the short-list but did get a nod in animation. The movie is entirely in French, but is based on a graphic novel by an Iranian, Marjane Satrapi, the co-writer and co-director is the same Iranian, and the subject is a coming-of-age of a young Iranian girl in Iran during the Iranian Islamic revolution. "Persepolis" is a Greek word meaning, The City of Persians for the city, Persian name Parsa, in ancient Iran. The ruins of Parsa are still in Iran. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

By submitting PERSEPOLIS for the BFLF Oscar, the French shut out one of two wonderful French movies, either THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, or La Môme (U.S. title = LA VIE EN ROSE), either of which could have won in the original system, but no one knows what would have happened under the current one.

Actress Marion Cotillard, who portrays the late, great French singer Edith Piaf in the latter, is nominated for best actress. Artist, and DIVING BELL director, Julian Schnabel received a best director nod.

The committee did provide a movie that contains two favored themes for the BFLF voters, World War Two and the Holocaust. THE COUNTERFEITERS is from Austria. Perfect.

From Israel comes BEAUFORT, a story of defeat. In 2001, the last Israeli soldiers must retreat from a famous fort captured by Israel in 1982. While abandoning the fort, the soldiers confront the futility of the mission to capture it in the first place. This in place of the delightful, THE BAND'S VISIT? An abomination.

From Poland comes the best known director in the competition, Andrzej Wajda, whose KATYN tells the true story of 15,000 Poles massacred by Soviet secret police in 1940, one of which was his own father. Wajda holds an honorary Oscar (2000) and many other awards. If this one had no made the list, I would have regurgitated.

Kazakhstan received its first Oscar nomination for MONGOL, in which Russian director Sergei Bodrov chronicles the early life and love of the warrior Genghis Kahn on the Mongolian steppe. Where is Kazakhstan? Does anyone really care? It must be right behind Siberia in my list of never-go-there places.

Another Russian director, Nikita Mikhalkov, whose 1994 picture BURNT BY THE SUN won the best foreign film Oscar for Russia, has made what is described as a "loose remake" of Sidney Lumet's classic court drama 12 ANGRY MEN (1957), which Mikhalkov calls, 12. Will this remake of the Hollywood classic put it in good standing for the Oscar? Is it a "remake" or plagiarism?

Variety film critic Robert Koehler is quoted as saying, "There is a consensus that this is an embarrassing selection and it exposed the category as by far the most problematic one the Academy has."

Bien dit! ¡Bien dicho! Bene disse! Gut sagte! Well said! Is that too much English?

Oh, in case you are wondering, that first BFLF Oscar went to LA STRADA (Italy, 1956), directed by Federico Fellini, produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Carlo Ponti, starring Fellini's wife, Giulietta Masina, and Anthony Quinn. Now, if any committee member does not know who these people were, they should never be on another BFLF committee! I would be happy to prepare a test to make sure the prospective committee members are thoroughly qualified in foreign film.

Reference my Foreign Movies Page.

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