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2019 Oscars: The State of the Foreign Language Film Oscar Race – Part 2

Venice and Telluride have just begun. Toronto has announced its lineup and starts in less than a week. 

That means another installment of AwardsWatch’s The State of the Foreign Language Oscar Race is due and I am joined again by AW foreign correspondent Mina Takla. As of right now we have 14 official submissions for Oscar consideration including Cannes and Berlin favorites like Shoplifters from Japan, Girl from Belgium, and a holdover from last year, I Am Not a Witch from the UK as well as an exclusive announcement about one Cannes film from Africa.

2019 Oscars: Official Submissions for the Foreign Language Film Oscar

Bringing into the conversation the films of Venice, Telluride and Toronto we look at the possibilities for Europe, Asia and the Americas, talk about some our favorites that have been officially announced (like Birds of Passage from Colombia and Border from Sweden).

EA: Hi Mina, welcome back to the next installment of AwardsWatch’s ‘The State of the Foreign Language Film Oscar Race’

MT: Hi Erik, it’s a very interesting time and I’m excited to talk FLF!

EA: It most definitely is. Since our last chat, after Cannes, we have so many things to talk about including what’s landing at Venice, Telluride and Toronto and the handful of official announcements we’ve gotten.

EA: Let’s start off with the official announcements that have come in.

MT: Yes – definitely! More and more countries are announcing their submissions so it’s certainly a very exciting time. Shall we start by region?

BORDER (Sweden)

EA: Let’s do that. Not surprisingly, Europe is hot out of the gate with some high profile Cannes winners and favorites (many that we predicted would be here) including GIRL from Belgium and BORDER from Sweden.

MT: BORDER is certainly an interesting case. I think it could go both ways but this is a film that, while being weird, stays with you for some reason. I think its chances are 50/50.

As for GIRL, I would argue that the film may not be the strong contender many think it is. I’ve seen the film too and really liked it, but it could strike some voters as a bit..low key.

MT: Also, coming off a year where A FANTASTIC WOMAN was just honored, you could feel like some voters could go like: ‘we’ve just done that last year’.

EA: As you know, those were two of my favorite films from Cannes this year, so maybe I’m a bit biased.

MT: I know I’m in the minority on GIRL.

EA: But Sweden has scored nominations in FLF for the last two years.

MT: Sweden and Denmark are perfect in picking candidates, yes.

EA: And, as you said, A FANTASTIC WOMAN just won with not only a trans storyline but a trans lead actress.

EA: Do you think there will be some controversy over the fact that the lead in GIRL is a cis male and not a trans girl?

MT: Yes there’s a controversy waiting to happen with GIRL, I think. I just think in the end, it may not be as striking as something like BORDER.
If it misses though, it will probably be due to the lowkey nature of the film.

EA: Indeed, there are some major FLF in contention this year that could push it aside.

MT: Voters would probably gravitate towards a more showy, dramatic film. A bit like why they loved something like IN THE FADE. It’s actually a very strong year for Europe. I would say keep an eye on THE GUILTY from Denmark. If it gets submitted, of course.

EA: Yes, I think both of us are predicting that quite easily.

MT: Also, I think CUSTODY is coming. And if it does, it’s probably in. Who else do we have from Europe? Let’s see.

EA: Germany just announced its submission this morning – NEVER LOOK AWAY from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. He led THE LIVES OF OTHERS to a win back in 2006

MT: Germany + SPC = nomination highly likely. SPC picked it up even before Venice and before the official submission. That’s a huge sign of confidence.

EA: As we know, there are fewer countries with as much power in this category than Germany, pre and post unification.

MT: My concern though, and it’s a minor one, is that the film is over 3 hours! And I just discovered that yesterday when I was redeeming my TIFF package!

Indeed – Germany is so powerful in this category. I just hope that voters have the patience to sit though a film that’s 188 min.

EA: It’s interesting that, once again, SPC will have some tough choices to make in how many of its FLFs it can and will push – it also has Lebanon’s CAPHARNAUM from Nadine Labaki.

Yes, that 188m may be a bit of a hurdle for some viewers.

NEVER LOOK AWAY (Germany)

MT: Yes, we’ll come to the Middle East for sure because they have very interesting contenders. But yes back to Europe I think NEVER LOOK AWAY is in probably good shape.

EA: But, with 19 nominations and 3 wins it’s good to keep Germany high on your list

MT: Indeed – never count out Germany. I can’t wait to see the film at TIFF.

Oh, yes we forgot one very interesting contender: I AM NOT A WITCH!

EA: Yes!

MT: The UK rarely scores nods here. But this film is this year’s THE WOUND. It’s a very gripping, “discovery” type of film. And has a very powerful narrative. I think this one is coming off strong. I didn’t expect the UK to submit it. They have been very unsuccessful in the past.

EA: They’ve earned two nominations (but not since 1998). But, IANAW has been a strong festival player and has a US release date in September.

MT: Indeed, I am very high on it. It’s going to be one of my top picks when we start the year-end predictions.

EA: Good to know!

MT: Voters love those “discovery” type films. TANNA, THE WOUND, TIMBUKTU.. These are films that are about worlds unseen, cultures discovered and are indeed very exotic viewing experiences.

EA: I think too, like TANNA from Australia, expands the idea of what a film from an English-language speaking country can be and how it fits into the real world.

MT: Yes 100%. Which is why I think the UK was very smart to submit it.

EA: Agreed.

MT: They did submit Farsi films before, such as UNDER THE SHADOW.
It’s just that they haven’t had much luck in recent years.

EA: Great film, that was.

MT: Indeed, very atmospheric. Who else do we have from Europe?

EA: Not much that garners nominations.

MT: Yea it’s a bit low-key this year. I do feel Latin America is shining bright this year!

EA: Except for Switzerland, a two-time winner. They have ELDORADO this year

MT: Maybe * for once* we see more than 1 nod for Latin America. Switzerland yea, I don’t think so. I think it’ll be interesting to see if France does indeed pick CUSTODY. Which I think they’ll eventually do.

Germany, Denmark and France with a Sweden dark horse. That’s how I see Europe in the race right now.

COLD WAR (Poland)

EA: Yes, I know we’re keeping our eyes on France, Denmark and Poland’s choices. There’s no way Poland isn’t choosing COLD WAR.

MT: Oh my, we forgot COLD WAR! Oh that’s so in.

EA: Very in. Cannes winner, Toronto, Telluride, an Amazon release = locked

MT: But a word of caution though, when you look at last year’s shortlist: it was 4 Europe, 1 Latin America, 2 Asia and 2 Africa.

So I think the committe is really trying to be as diverse as possible. I don’t think Europe is going to have the cakewalk like before.

EA: I think that speaks to the broadening of reach from voters .

MT: Indeed. Which is something we need to talk about.

EA: Europe will definitely be fighting for spots they’ve previously taken for granted.

MT: Shall we tell our readers about the changes in the committee?

EA: Yes, I know that is a huge topic – the shocking changeup in the committee.

MT: I think we will see some changes in the way the selections are made because of this. My argument, which could be wrong, is that with that change, we will see more efforts for diversity. And I think Asia will benefit this year.

EA: So what are the big changes in the committee lineup that will impact this?

MT: I think that with Mark Johnson now gone as a committee head we have to remember that this was a period where Europe had a big dominance in this category. If you look at the past 15 years, Europe typically had a 40% or more share in every year’s shortlist. Now I am not saying Johnson essentially favored Europe necessarily – but I think whoever comes in charge would love to leave a mark and maybe even make a statement.

And here’s where I think that the critiques typically aimed at the way the committee selects its films by going for European fare that is more accessible and relatable to them – I think that’s going to change.

The Academy seems to be trying to be opening itself up to more intertaional members – and from my region, the middle east, this has been the highest year of invited members from it.

EA: Mark Johnson headed the FLF committee for 17 of the last 18 years. He had real impact.

MT: So I think that will be reflected on the committee’s choices and whoever headed them too. Things are changing – and I think the new committee heads, will really listen to the critiques.

EA: Larry Karaszewski and Diane Weyermann are the new heads of the FLF committee. What do you make of them?

MT: I think that having two committee heads helps in creating some shared decision making and a bit of a more thoughtful selection process. I like that both genders are represented specifically because the committee was notorious for being very male-oriented in their choices.

EA: I’m a big fan of Karaszewski as a filmmaker and I think Weyermann coming from the documentary branch is an inspired choice.

Agreed on seeing both a male and female leader here.

MT: Indeed – am curious to see if we would see docs in the shortlist too. But I’m not really counting on it that much.

EA: Palestine just announced GHOST HUNTING this morning, which isn’t a doc so much as a reenactment. I wonder how that will play.

MT: It was very well received in Berlin – but I think it won’t make the cut. There’s just stronger contenders from Asia that will probably take its place. Shall we talk about Asia?

EA: We did just have the doc FIRE AT SEA two years ago. I would keep my eye on any country that submits a doc for consideration.

EA: Yes, let’s, as it features one of my favorite films of the year.

SHOPLIFTERS (Japan)

MT: Me too! So Japan did the *shocking*right decision by selecting SHOPLIFTERS!

EA: Of course we’re talking about Japan’s SHOPLIFTERS!

MT: Which, I have to say, wasn’t in any way guaranteed.

EA: Absolutely not guaranteed. China, Japan and South Korea are always such wildcards with their decisions.

MT: I know I am biased here – and we probably both are because we are such fans of the film – but I think it makes the final five. It’s just very universal, speaks to everyone and very accessible and emotional.

EA: It has everything going for it: the Palme win, a US distributor (Magnolia) and release date and, as you say, very accessible. It’s going to speak to how poverty reaches globally and not simply in a ‘poverty porn’ way

MT: I don’t think FLF voters care that much about the Palme to be honest, as we’ve seen with inaccessible Palme winners like WINTER SLEEP. I think if it makes it, and I think it will, it will be because of what you said. It’s very graceful, never manipulative and very touching.

EA: The Palme may not be an overriding factor, but I think it’s a part of its narrative.

MT: Yes, campaigning wise for sure it is. Speaking of which, I don’t think BURNING will make it.

EA: Another Cannes favorite. I won’t be counting on it being chosen. But I’ll remain hopeful.

MT: And one that was snubbed at that, too.

EA: Cruelly snubbed!

MT: I think South Korea is going to continue its bad streak with the Oscars with another commercial candidate that just doesn’t click. They will probably pick something that they simply liked. And BURNING wasn’t unanimously liked so..

EA: Which brings us to China, which has a few high profile possibilities but also makes some very odd choices – like last year.

MT: China is interesting because I think that if they make smart choices, they can make the cut several times. I know some expect the Jia to be selected. I don’t think that will be the case. Although, Cohen Media has that (ASH IS PUREST WHITE) and Cohen, unlike previous years, does not have Middle East film this year.

EA: It might have the blockbuster element that China wants to push.

MT: Never bet against Cohen Media.

EA: Cohen Media is a very strong FLF Oscar player.

MT: Yes, they will probably select – DYING TO SURVIVE.

EA: I don’t think China really cares that much about the Oscars though; they’re like Disney in that way. Happy with box office

MT: This was a huge success box office wise with a rare 9.7 audience rating. It was massively well received, a cancer story that’s uplifting.

EA: That makes sense a pick for China.

MT: It fits the bill. But I don’t think voters will care that much, so China is probably out – again.

EA: It should also be noted that China has only ever had two FLF Oscar nominations and both came from Zhang Yimou films.

MT: Indeed – I think they’re just not so much into the Oscar game these days. No one will ever forget the biggest FLF trolling move of submitting WOLF WARRIOR 2! That was epic.

EA: I still can’t get over that.

CAPHARNAUM (Lebanon)

MT: Me too! Ugh, it was so strange. So apart from China and Japan, I think when it comes to Asia, we can look at the Middle East considering we have a very strong contender from Lebanon which is an Asian Middle Eastern country – CAPHARNAUM by Nadine Labaki and acquired by SPC.

EA: There really isn’t going to be a stronger player from that region.

MT: That film is technically Asia. Indeed, just like THE INSULT was. It’s funny because Lebanon has had a real drought and has been snubbed so many times. Including Labaki’s own previous efforts.

EA: Yes, but with Asia being so large and diverse it’s important to break it down regionally between the Middle East, East Asia (Japan, China) and South Asia (India, etc)

MT: Indeed – I agree.

EA: True, but that won’t be Labaki’s fate this year.

MT: I think it will all depend on what happens with ROMA. If that doesn’t make it, then I think Labaki takes it over Cold War.

EA: Her Cannes Jury Prize winning film is, like SHOPLIFTERS in many ways, a family drama steeped in poverty and stealing to survive.

EA: But, its approach is decidedly more into the ‘poverty porn’ territory for me.

MT: Simply due to the gravitas and the emotional impact. And I don’t think Shoplifters wins it. I don’t know, I don’t feel it’s a populist choice.
Your observation about it being manipulative is interesting because that was indeed the reaction of many at Cannes. And the film does not shy away from overplaying the misery of its characters. To some, it’s too much. To others, it’s gravitas. I think voters will fall into that second category and feel like they wanna award something heavy and relevant.

EA: It all depends on your perspective.

EA: Yes, there will be two camps for this.

MT: Indeed, I think the film plays better to North American viewers than European ones. But, it’s been winning awards left and right in Europe too so.. I think Roma still has the upper hand..but if not then watch out. I think COLD WAR isn’t getting this. I could be wrong, but it’s more of a film that is admired than OMG loved. Again my perspective.

That brings us to Central and South America.

EA: Which I think is very, very competitive this year

MT: Yes – am very curious about this region this year. First – I have to say they have a film that I was gushing about in Cannes. BIRDS OF PASSAGE – Colombia. I loved that film so much. It’s so accessible, deep, engaging. I loved that film so much. It’s so accessible, deep, engaging – I just love it.

EA: It was one of the most loved films at Cannes.

MT: And it deserves it. It’s a film that is both exotic (in a TIMBUKTU way) and at the same time political and very well orchestrated. I think it’s going to make the shortlist.

EA: I’m curious about The Orchard’s decision to hold off its US release until mid-February. I know a US release isn’t crucial to a FLF nomination but it still feels so late.

MT: Yes, am not sure what’s going on with that – maybe it’s a sign of confidence? That they know it’s getting in and want to open it at the time of voting. Not sure.

EA: Overconfidence, it seems.

ROMA (Mexico)

MT: Latin America also has other interesting contenders. Of course, Mexico.

EA: Yes, Mexico is a bit of a question mark. Everyone is assuming ROMA will be the choice.

MT: It’s the most anticipated country for me. I want to see what they will pick.

EA: But it’s not guaranteed.

MT: I haven’t seen ROMA, and I love Cuaron and I will probably love it but I adore MUSEO and gave it an ARin Berlin, so yes I’m very biased!
But bias aside, MUSEO is just tailor made for this category. It’s so perfect for it.

It says so much about Mexico as a country and as generations tend to look at their own identity differently. It’s a very menaingful, symbolic and hugely entertaining heist film that tricks you into thinking it’s a heist film when it’s a lot more than that.

EA: I feel like ROMA is such a powerhouse and the committee for Mexico might not be able to ignore that.

MT: It’s very watchable, digestible and enjoyable piece of work. I agree Roma is probably going to be picked but I can see a situation where they would want Roma for the big categories and MUSEO for FLF.

EA: Do you think how Netflix decides to release ROMA will impact the FLF committee choice? I’ve heard everything from it getting a two week theatrical release to a much bigger, longer one.

MT: I think Netflix may not want it to compete for FLF actually, Just my speculation of course. But there’s this notion that the FLF category is more of a ghetto category for some that, when you’re in there, we have “rewarded you” in some way. I think Netflix wants the big categories and just like animation, doesn’t want voters to feel like: ‘oh we’ve thrown it an FLF nod.” Of course FLF is a wonderful category and am just talking about the perception here.

EA: I think that makes sense. A FLF nomination isn’t really a ‘win’ for Netflix. They want to build on MUDBOUND’s groundbreaking nominations last year and hit Best Picture and Best Director.

MT: Yes – and I think they don’t want the film to feel like “it’s been already rewarded with a token nom’ I think if it were up to them, then Museo all the way for Mexico in FLF.

EA: So what we’re saying is don’t be surprised if MUSEO ends up being their choice.

MT: Yes – and if you ask me, it will be a smart one. Apart from Mexico, am not really sure about Argentina, Chile and Brazil this year – I think Mexico remains the best shot for Latin America along with Colombia.

EA: We mentioned THE HEIRESSES from Paraguay in our last chat. How do you think that will fare now?

MT: Indeed – I think it’s a pretty great film with good chances, but I feel that its ceiling is the shortlist which it can surely reach. But I don’t think it’s populist enough to reach the final 5. It will probably have to be a save. The thing is – this year we have a lot of accessible contenders. So artsy ones may be a bit overshadowed. The committee can only save three so they don’t have a lot of wiggle room here.

EA: Plus, Paraguay has only ever submitted twice so far – in 2015 and 2017.

MT: I think it will depend on how many other artsy films are out there that the committee feels passionate about. THE HEIRESSES is a film you respect and like a lot. But I feel like there will be more contenders with passion.

EA: Agreed.

MT: So when we are mentioning the Middle East, I have some exclusive news for AwardsWatch.

EA: Oh cool, shoot.

YOMEDDINE (Egypt)

MT: It’s been just confirmed that YOMEDDINE will have a qualifying limited run in Egypt on September 23 followed by a wide release on Sept 26 so the film will be eligible to represent Egypt. No one has reported on this yet but it will be in the race for Egypt.

EA: Great scoop! That was another Cannes film that had two camps; one that saw it as inspirational and one that thought it was a bit exploitative.

MT: I think it will do well with voters. Interestingly, many North American outlets such as Indiewire and Variety liked it, while European ones had reservations. I think it will surprise. It’s a real wild card. Just like THEEB (Jordan) did. No one had that one even on the radar.

EA: I think it can be a contender…on the shortlist.

MT: It just reminds me of it for some reason. Agreed. Other that that, I want to highlight also a film many are sleeping on. Morocco – SOFIA. It’s not been submitted yet but we should know next week.

EA: Which I think it does.

MT: And if so, this is a #metoo film 100%. Shortlist contender too.

EA: Yes, another low-key choice to consider. Let’s talk a bit about FLF contenders playing Venice, Telluride and/or Toronto.

MT: So for those attending Venice – I’d say for sure don’t miss Germany’s contender NEVER LOOK AWAY. That’s for sure.

EA: Yes, NEVER LOOK AWAY, which we mentioned above as having just been announced for Germany, should be a strong player at Venice.

Telluride just announced today and they have some major Cannes winners: GIRL, COLD WAR, BORDER and DOGMAN from Italy, which won Best Actor.

MT: For Telluride, I find that the selection of DOGMAN is interesting. I think it’s going to be – like we said last time – Italy’s choice and won’t make the shortlist/

EA: Italy has quite a selection to choose from, including another Cannes winner – HAPPY AS LAZZARO.

MT: BORDER and GIRL benefit the most from Telluride. COLD WAR is in good shape.

EA: COLD WAR is in excellent shape. GIRL is at Netflix and I feel like they’re going to push hard for it in FLF. Border is at Neon and getting a US release in October, a good sign.

MT: For Venice, not sure if we have a contender as strong as Germany. Netflix is clearly pushing for GIRL over LAZZARO.

EA: Toronto has nearly all of these films as well, except for HAPPY AS LAZZARO.

MT: They probably know LAZZARO is not making it for Italy.

EA: Yes, that was a key omission for me, not showing up at Toronto.

GIRL (Belgium)

MT: Indeed. So for TIFF, there are so many FLF films to watch. I urge TIFF goers to enjoy NEVER LOOK AWAY, BORDER, COLD WAR, CAPHARNAUM.

EA: Too many!

MT: Indeed! I feel like I am forgetting many.

EA: I echo Border and COLD WAR and add GIRL.

MT: Girl as well yes. I think there are more than those but these are the ones that come to mind right now. Cannes is dominating the submissions so far. Interesting.

EA: ROMA too, of course.

MT: Ah yes – that’s a Best Picture contender too.

EA: It’s hitting Venice, Telluride, Toronto and NYFF – the only film to do that. That’s how serious Netflix is about it.

MT: Also NON-FICTION right? The new Olivier Assayas film. It’s hitting the big 3. I don’t think it’s eligible for France though.

EA: Yes, NON-FICTION is landing at many fests but feels like a such a non-starter. I’m not hearing ANY buzz on it, or interest, for that matter

MT: Me neither. I wonder what’s up with that. I may see it at TIFF, so I guess we’ll see. But yea, probably not an FLF contender.

From Africa, I would have loved to see contenders like The Wound but I think I AM NOT A WITCH is the only shot and it’s going to be representing Europe so that’s funny!

EA: I wish there was any chance for RAFIKI from Kenya to get in.

MT: Oh that one is already banned.

EA: Oh yes, it’s been long since banned.

MT: It’s sad that some countries have a long way to go. Sigh.

EA: This is a good example of how and why a country having to submit can be a disservice to a film.

MT: So Africa sits this out this year, I’d say.

EA: It’s why I like how the Golden Globes do it; no submissions needed and more than one film per country can be nominated.

MT: Yes! Totally.

EA: Yeah I’m not seeing much of a shot for Africa this year.

MT: As for Australia, I would love if they sent SWEET COUNTRY. It’s a Venice winner and a film with a great reception. But yeah – not happening so..

U 22 JULY (Norway)

EA: Any other films, from festivals or not, we should keep people aware of? I think Norway’s U 22 JULY might be something, especially with Paul Greengrass’s version hitting Toronto.

MT: Oh U 22 JULY – how did we miss that! That’s 100% a shortlist contender and maybe even a top 5.

EA: We didn’t, we’re here now!

MT: I know am one of the film’s biggest fans but I am on this film’s side 100%. It’s one of those I’m going on a limb with but I am sure it’s going to go places. Some people don’t like it at all.

EA: I feel pretty good about it, too. Very topicial.

MT: Exactly! I think this is so timely.

EA: Yes, I saw a lot ‘why do we need to see this?’ kind of comments, understandable.

MT: I think we covered most of it, I would just like to urge those attending TIFF to take some time to enjoy the foreign language films there – and there’s a lot of them. U 22 isn’t one of them which is unfortunate. But I’ll see 22 JULY to compare the two!

EA: Yes!

Well, that’s our take on the Foreign Language Film Oscar race as of right now. Stay tuned for future installments as the season continues, including shortlist and nomination predictions.

MT: This is one of the most exciting FLF years. I’m so thrilled we have such a season ahead of us!

EA: Agreed! Mina, thanks for joining me today and I look forward to seeing you in Toronto!

MT: Thank you Erik for the lovely opportunity as always. See you at TIFF for sure!

About Erik Anderson

Erik thanks his mother for his love of all things Oscar, having watched the Academy Awards together since he was in the single digits; making lists, rankings and predictions throughout the show. This led him down the path to obsessing about awards. Much later, he found himself at GoldDerby, led by Tom O’Neill and then migrated over to Oscarwatch (now AwardsDaily), headed up by Sasha Stone before breaking off to create AwardsWatch. He is a member of the International Cinephile Society, GALECA (The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics), the International Press Academy and is the founder/owner of AwardsWatch.

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