Here’s our third piece on this year’s exciting Foreign Language Oscar race. As the BFI London Film Festival comes to a close, we’ve seen three very surprising and sublime FLF contenders that we fell in live with. We’re predicting these 3 films will have strong chances for a nom, not just because we love the storytelling and honest approach in each of these 3, but mainly because they include themes AMPAS will very likely resonate with.
A clarification on the percentages since some of Awards Watch readers were asking. The percentages assigned here to each film are calculated projections in isolation of other films. In other words, when we give a film a percentage chance that’s higher than 50, this means we believe it’s more likely to be nominated than not. As the percentage goes closer to or above 60 for a film, we believe its chances are very strong. With the shortlist only including 9 films and the eventual nominees being only 5, not all the strong contenders will eventually make it in, but these percentages should offer the reader an insight as to how individually strong each contender is, based on its appeal to AMPAS, themes, buzz etc. We will soon start narrowing down only the strong contenders (only those with 60% or above) in upcoming pieces where we will start predicting the most likely of the bunch.
This third piece on the FLF race features three underdogs who we believe are flying under the radar but can very well contend strongly for shortlist inclusions and eventual nominations. At a time when everyone seems to be looking at contenders from Russia, France, Chile and Sweden, these films are well worth your predictions.
From South Africa: The Wound (Trailer)
1) The Story: In South Africa, a ritual demands young men be sent to a ‘manhood’ camp where they get circumcised and spend two weeks healing in small tents far away from the city. They’re given the name of “initiates” and a group of men (“caregivers”) help them heal and teach them manhood principles during those two weeks.
(2) Quick Review: This is one of the most marvelous LGBTQ films of the year and it’s both a striking portrayal of how the concept of manhood is perceived in South Africa and a devastating gay love story. The film explores both psychological and physical wounds that gay men suffer from in South Africa and has some of the strongest LGBT portrayals this year. It deals with its subject matter with great artistry and sensitivity – and also offers a rare window to South African rituals rarely portrayed on screen. It’s a superb first feature by John Trengove who deservingly nabbed the Best First Feature Award at the BFI London Film Festival. It’s a perfect example of a film that impresses you but then stays with you long after you’ve seen it. Remarkable.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? LGBT films, as we mentioned before, don’t have a great track record here but this film is a fantastic exploration of manhood in Africa. It could really be this year’s TIMBUKTU – another surprising African nomination. It’s true that Timbuktu had resonant themes (about terrorism) and wasn’t an LGBT film, but both films really showed us distant African worlds we barely knew anything about. Plus, it has a strong shocking narrative that will help keep it very fresh in voters’ mind – perhaps that’s why this film has been earning many awards wherever it screens.
(4) Historic precedents/stats African films have a very spotty track record here and South Africa is no exception. The country has only 2 nods here, but one of those resulted in a win, for 2005’s Tsotsi.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. We may surprise many readers with this prediction – but we’re going to give this film the third highest likelihood percentage of any film after LOVELESS (85%) and FOXTROT (90%) and above other big contenders such as BPM (75%), THE SQUARE (70%) and others. We’re pegging it at an 80% chance – and we’re sure many will disagree but we believe it’s not wishful thinking. The film will be able to stand out from the pack and it also has many elements in its favor: diversity, a world rarely seen, an important and shocking narrative and powerful drama. It represents what voters love: a film that goes deeply local to offer a story of global resonance (just like The Missing Picture, Timbuktu). We think it will surprise many when the shortlist is out. The Wound is being released in the US by Kino Lorber.
From Italy: A CIAMBRA (Trailer)
1) The Story: A rare look at the gypsy community in Southern Italy.
(2) Quick Review: One of the year’s most shocking films – for 2 reasons. One, it includes probably the year’s most raw performances, delivered by non-professional actors who are a family in real life and are portrayed so on screen. And two, it offers a very honest and surprising look at the gypsy community, many of whom are living on the margin of society. We watch 2-year-old kids smoke in the film and a 10-year-old boy forced to become a man too soon. It is powerful, raw and shocking cinema and a film that is as painful as it is unforgettable. An important work.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? It will surely appeal. The film has a strong macho-feel, and tackles manhood as a concept and as a route that the character has to take. It is timely, resonant and speaks of minorities rarely seen on screen. The film’s harsh nature may not give it a win but it can surely be nominated. Oh, and it is executive-produced by Martin Scorsese so that will surely bring it more visibility.
(4) Historic precedents/stats Italy is the all-time leader in this category with 14 wins, including the very first Oscar for Foreign Language Film given to 1956’s La Strada and most recently to 2013’s The Great Beauty (plus including 3 Honorary Oscars before the creation of the Foreign Language Film category). It is also second place in total nominations with 28.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. This is the first of 3 underdogs we’re covering in this article, and our percentage assigned here may be a surprise to many – but we’re quite confident in these three films and A Ciambra is one of them. We’ll give it a 70% chance as it’s very strong work that Scorsese believed in and the results explain why. Given the film’s themes and likely resonance with male voters, it should be higher than the 70% we assigned to A FANTASTIC WOMAN for example. However, we’re not assigning more just because the film at the moment doesn’t have the big festival buzz that the Chile submission (or other contenders like Russia, Israel or France have). A Ciambra is being released in the US by Sundance Selects.
From Spain: Summer 1993 (Trailer)
1) The Story: A girl loses both her parents because of a disease and is asked to live with her uncle. She struggles to cope with her loss and new life.
(2) Quick Review: This was one of the most surprising films we saw at the BFI London Film Festival. Going in, you don’t expect much. But the film becomes a fascinating psychological study and a rare look at how children deal with traumas. The film never veers into sentimentality nor deals with its lead character with pity or shallowness. It’s a deep film that will speak to parents and anyone who has seen children in similar situations. It’s also an impressive directorial debut and earned a special mention at the BFI London Film Festival. A real gem.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? Remember Belgium’s The Broken Circle Breakdown? A film which some may deem sentimental but that deeply impacted AMPAS voters who dealt with loss? This could be this year’s Broken Circle Breakdown – it touches on basic themes of life and death but does it in very artistic and subtle ways. It’s also a very accessible film and includes the right amount of heart and even some laughs. It won’t put voters into a miserable mood – it will rather uplift them especially thanks to the final moments of the film. Proving the film’s accessible nature, it was a surprise hit in Spain, garnering over 150,000 admissions so far at a time where the country’s overall box office has been on the decline.
(4) Historic precedents/stats Spain has been nominated 19 times (third most nominated country after France and Italy), won 4 times (1982’s Begin the Beguine, 1993’s Belle Époque, 1999’s All About My Mother and 2004’s The Sea Inside – it is tied in third place with Japan for the most wins in this category). They’ve been absent as of late – their last nomination (and win) was for The Sea Inside in 2004. But this film could finally have them back.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. Very few are having this film on their predictions but we’ll argue otherwise. This is a film that may not have strong buzz like the big contenders (it bowed in Berlin), but the shortlist and final nods typically contain a film or two that have really been under the radar. This could be the one. We’re going to offer a bold prediction and give this one a 65% chance for a nomination – slightly below A CIAMBRA because of its smaller profile and female-centric narrative. But watch out for it. Summer 1993 is being released in the US by Oscilloscope Labs.