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2018 Oscars: Foreign Language Film – The Cases for LOVELESS (Russia) and FÉLICITÉ (Senegal)

Russia’s Loveless (left) and Senegal’s Félicité

The Foreign Language Film Oscar shortlist came out last Thursday with six of our predicted 9 films making the cut in addition to a 7th film we had pegged as an alternative also making the shortlist (A Fantastic Woman). Meanwhile, two films we did not see coming (On Body and Soul and Félicité) were shortlisted. As for the snubs – and there are always some – we had correctly predicted the BPM snub (knowing that LGBTQ films are bound to have some snubs are they’re not slam dunks in this category) but did not expect the snub of Angeline Jolie’s First They Killed My Father (thinking it’s in voters’ wheelhouse due to its themes and strong campaign).

Overall, it’s been a great shortlist with lots to offer (and we’re pleased that many of the films we loved did make the shortlist) – and so begins a new phase of the race. One thing to note before we start our analysis is that this shortlist is the most diverse and festival-centric in the past few years. In fact, ever since 2011, no FLF shortlist has been this diverse and least Euro-centric, a much-needed breath of fresh air and a wonderful surprise especially for female-centric and non-European stories.

When you have films like The WoundFélicité and A Fantastic Woman (a film we put as an alt and not within our predicted 9 fearing it may get snubbed because of its female-centric narrative), there’s a lot to celebrate. True, there were snubs but compared to previous years, we’d argue that this is the best shortlist in the past 5 years (if not more). Some of the films we absolutely loved and believed in (Summer 1993, A Ciambra, Bingo) did not make it unfortunately – but with only 9 slots, you can’t fit in everyone.

In this new FLF analysis piece, we turn to Phase 2 of the race, where we start to predict the final 5 and the snubbed 4. With 4 weeks to go until the Oscar nominations, we’ll be posting a weekly analysis of two films in the race per article. And we’re kicking it off today with one of the surprising films we didn’t predict (and hadn’t actually seen before the shortlist was announced): FÉLICITÉ and a masterful film we had pegged as a lock ever since we saw it in Cannes: LOVELESS. Let’s take a look.

 

The Case for LOVELESS

We saw this film in the Salle du Soixantième at Cannes on the day of its world premiere (that was 7 months ago) and yet, we still remember specific sequences in it. It’s that strong and superbly made, and we had pegged it as the second likeliest film with a chance at making the shortlist (85%) after Foxtrot (90%). Both films made it – and for reasons we’ve explained earlier: they’re among the most memorable, well made and superbly acted FLF contenders of the year.

  • Save or popular choice? Here’s the thing with this film: almost every voter who sees it says it’s grim, pessimistic and a tough watch, but they still vote for it. Because it’s a film that stays in your memory, has the ‘importance’ tag and heartbreaking scenes. Even if it’s a downer.
  • Why AMPAS liked it: The FLF category appreciates films that offer a striking social commentary on their countries/societies. LOVELESS has several baity, heartbreaking scenes and a narrative that keeps you immersed. It’s also wonderfully shot and its middle section (which is basically a long search for the missing boy) leaves room for you as a viewer to contemplate. AMPAS voters appreciated its approach, acting, cinematography (technical specs are important in this category) and its reflection on modern-day Russia. Its angry tone lingered in their minds and made the film urgent to vote for, which is something we were certain would happen. Plus SPC handled its campaign very well.
  • If it earns a nom, it’s because: It’s urgent, dramatic, artistic and comes at a time Russia is always in the news.
  • Will it make the final 5? This Russian angle may also help it win – but this talk is for another day.
  • Final verdict/our prediction: In

 

The Case for FELICITE’

We have to admit that this inclusion was a big surprise (to us and many other Oscar watchers). In fact, we hadn’t seen this film before the shortlist announcement and finally got to watch it on screener this weekend. It’s a welcome addition because African stories are rarely represented in this category – and it’s always great to see voices and stories from regions that are constantly overlooked. 

  • Save or popular choice? Save absolutely. The executive committee, led by Mark Johnson, must have saved this little-film-that-could. It’s a definition of an artsy, high-brow and a bit inaccessible film that Johnson’s team must have liked and appreciated.
  • Why AMPAS liked it: The film fits the ‘exotic discovery’ category, a category other films like TUMBUKTU, EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT, TANNA and others fit in. It seems that every year, there’s this one or two films that no one predicted but that AMPAS embraced because of their interesting reveal of a world that’s totally fresh and new to voters. And most of these exotic discovery films tend to be about tribes, obscure worlds or specific cultures. Félicité fits this narrative.
  • If it earns a nom, it’s because: It’s exotic, emotional, opens a door to the Africa we don’t know, smartly blends music and drama and is the vaguest (in a good way) film in the race in a sense that it leaves you to connect some dots and doesn’t spoon feed you what the filmmaker is trying to say. It also has a female empowerment angle. Félicité, a singer in a bar, is trying to her find her voice in real life in a male-dominated world.
  • Will it make the final 5? We don’t think so – and here’s why. While watching the film, which we could certainly see was a ‘save’ 15 minutes in, this is a slow, a bit experimental and high-brow film. The problem with it is that it demands a lot of patience from viewers and we don’t think it plays well on a screener as much as it would on a big screen. The film also has a number of dream sequences that demand the viewer to connect them with Felicite’s struggles. It’s a bit of a stretch for the average voter, and it sure may get the votes of the sophisticated ones – but it’s not that much of a crowdpleaser. It blends music and drama well, but doesn’t have a lot of fireworks or even dialogue. It’s a 60% silent film that lets the music do most of the job.
  • Final verdict/our prediction: Out

Next week: we take a look at 2 more FLF contenders and assess their chances.

Mina Takla

Mina Takla is a foreign correspondent for AwardsWatch and the co-founder of The Syndicate, an online news agency that offers original content services to several film brands including Empire Magazine’s Middle East edition and the Dubai Film Festival. Takla has attended, covered and written from over 10 film festivals online including the Dubai International Film Festival, Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Cannes, Venice and Annecy Film Festivals. He has been following the Oscar race since 2000 with accurate, office-pool winning predictions year after year. He writes monthly in Empire Arabia, the Arabic version of the world’s top cinema magazine and conducts press junkets with Hollywood stars in the UK and the US. He holds a Master’s degree in Strategic Marketing from Australia’s Wollongong University and is currently based in Dubai, UAE.

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