Our sixth piece on this year’s Foreign Language Oscar race turns Eastern Europe with Bulgaria and Bosnia’s Oscar submissions as well as Asia’s Kyrgyzstan.
The three films we’re analyzing this week all seem to have grim, pessimistic takes on the brutality of modern life in their respective countries, whether it’s about lost values (Centaur), lost hope (Glory) or lost sanity (Men Don’t Cry). Such subject matter is handled with varying degrees of success and intensity – but the three films remain interesting viewing experiences as they open doors to the pains of societies rarely depicted on screen.
Let’s take a look.
1) The Story: When a railway worker finds stolen money near a station, he decides to hand it over to the police. Soon he becomes a local hero, but not for long.
(2) Quick Review: This is a very interesting, albeit a bit slow, film. On the surface, it’s the story of a local hero who decides to hand over stolen money he found to the police, proving how honest and patriotic he is. But eventually we start to see the essence of the story – and it’s far from what appears on the surface. This is a slow-burn, smart film that reflects on the marginalized groups in modern-day Bulgaria. And it mostly succeeds in bringing dark comedy and social commentary. It’s a bit slow but powerful overall.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? It may go either way – on one hand, FLF voters like and admire films with subtle but piercing social commentary. And this is a very accessible film and does a good job at that. On the other hand, it may appear a bit simplistic with not enough high stakes that makes it stand out and urge voters to consider it with a big degree of passion. Some may see it as subtle and smart, while others may see it as a bit slight. It just doesn’t have a lot of fireworks to strike voters as an urgent vote.
(4) Historic precedents/stats Bulgaria made the shortlist once and was never nominated for its previous 27 submissions. Don’t count on this to change that.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. We will give this film a 30% chance. Reviews have been strong (80+ on Metacritic) with some festival awards and it’s an accessible film with some relevance. But it may not have enough urgency to move ahead of the pack.
Stay tuned very soon for our predictions for the Foreign Language Film shortlist in which we’ll be filtering down all the contenders we had pegged at 65% or more in our FLF analysis series and will be arranging the likely contenders from in a typical preferential Oscar prediction style.
1) The Story: A group of soldiers land in a retreat hotel where they’re forced to deal – and heal – from their war traumas through a series of therapy sessions.
(2) Quick Review: It’s an interesting film – but one that’s very talky. It chooses to tell rather than show for the most part. Watching this film, it reminded us of THE CLAN (THE CLUB) by Pablo Larrain, another “aftermath” film that showed a group of priests gathering in a remote ‘healing’ home after their inappropriate behaviors. The film has its emotional moments, strong dialogue and a well-thought of structure that shows how one can deal with traumas, but it feels sometimes like a TV film and it has issues with pacing. Most of it is inside closed doors and it doesn’t feel cinematic enough at times.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? AMPAS responds very well to films which deal with the traumatic, psychological impact of war. Denmark’s A WAR, nominated most recently in this category, is an example of similar films that AMPAS loves. War films in fact have dominated this category and voters seem to appreciate seeing characters in war-themed conflicts. However, most of these films showed war in effect – meaning that it was on full display during the films and not told an after-the-fact. This gave these films some sort of harrowing, urgent impact in voters’ minds and helped them stay strong in their memory when it was time for them to mark down the nominations. With MEN DON’T CRY, this may be a bit different because the film solely focuses on the aftermath. While its subject matter is in voters’ wheelhouse, its execution may stand in its way.
(4) Historic precedents/stats In 16 previous submissions, Bosnia earned one Oscar (2001’s No Man’s Land) and was on the shortlist once (2013). Both times for Danis Tanović films. A win is out of the question and a nomination isn’t secure.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. We’ll give this film a 35% chance mainly due to its subject matter which voters tend to respond to. This percentage could have ben higher if the film showed us the characters in action. However, it remains a solid contender.
1) The Story: The film focuses on a man who, despite deemed as delusional, decides to steal a horse on a crazy quest to restore the nation’s dignity and glory in his point of view.
(2) Quick Review: This is a strange but ambitious film. The concept alone, while being darkly funny, is a bit bizarre. It’s a Robin-hood tale of sorts, of a man deciding to steal horses in protest of how they’re being used as a commodity, while also believing that there’s something seriously wrong with where the nation is headed. It features great cinematography and superb technical credits, but the story could be divisive.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? The film is accessible and inaccessible in some parts – while the character’s motivations are presented directly within the film, parts of the story, and the main premise of stealing horses to set them free as some sort of symbolic reference to moral greatness that was once there and is now lost, may not go well with AMPAS voters who are mostly Western. One plus point is that the main character used to be a film projectionist – and he’s strongly opposing the religious surge in his community but the film doesn’t handle this point in detail, since its focus is on the protagonist’s motivations and his quest for justice and freedom. To appreciate the film, you’ll have to appreciate this quest – and that’s where it may get murky because the context of such quest may not come across as clear or convincing enough.
(4) Historic precedents/stats This is the 10th submission for Kyrgyzstan. 4th time for Aktan Abdykalykov. Kyrgyzstan has yet to receive an Oscar nomination.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. We’ll give it a 20% chance. It’s marvelously executed but could be inaccessible in terms of its character motivations and the overall story.
In a few days: we look at further European contenders in our 7th Foreign Language Film piece. Stay tuned.