Fri. Oct 30th, 2020

2019 Oscars: From Spain’s ‘Everybody Knows’ to South Korea’s ‘Burning’ – 16 Foreign Language Films to Keep an Eye on at Cannes

Spain’s EVERYBODY KNOWS from Asghar Farhadi and Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem

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With just 10 days to go until the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival, it’s time to look at the potential Foreign Language Film Oscar contenders that will premiere at the festival in its Official In Competition selection, Un Certain Regard, Critics’ Week and Directors’ Fortnight. Also, AwardsWatch will be at the festival bringing you live coverage, previews and reviews of all the top contenders.

Known to be a prime FLF Oscar launchpad, Cannes in recent years has been able to premiere several major FLF contenders and winners (THE SALESMAN, THE GREAT BEAUTY among others). Last year, two Cannes premieres made it to the final 5 FLF nominees (THE SQUARE – Palme d’Or winner and LOVELESS – Jury Prize winner). However, a Berlinale entry – A FANTASTIC WOMAN – took home the FLF Oscar eventually.

Let’s take a look at the 16 potential FLF contenders soon to hit Cannes:

  1. From Poland: COLD WAR

After his FLF winner IDA, Pawel Pawlikowski is back again with another serious film that will compete with Berlinale 2018 Grand Prize winner MUG to become Poland’s official FLF submission. Early word is strong on the film and while the film takes place in 1950s Poland against a backdrop of the cold war, it’s still an emotional love story that could make it accessible to voters.

  1. From Spain: EVERYBODY KNOWS

Despite conflicting early buzz on the film, Asghar Farhadi’s latest will be the Cannes opener and the first time in over 5 years for the Opening Film to be in competition for the Palme d’or. A follow-up to his second FLF Oscar winner, and another Cannes entry, THE SALESMAN, Farhadi’s film seems to be a drama/thriller with elements of mystery and intrigue. Will Spain go for it or would they opt for edgier work such as SUNDAY’S ILLNESS? The country hasn’t made the Oscar shortlist in many years – can they return?

  1. From Italy: DOGMAN

2018 may very well be one of Italian cinema’s strongest years, with two very promising films in official competition. After a divisive TALE OF TALES, Mattheo Garrone returns to his roots with yet another dark and intriguing entry in his Italian filmography with DOGMAN, a crime-drama set in Italy. The film’s early buzz is fantastic. Can it live up to the hype? Look out for this one as a potential FLF entry. The trailer already looks very AMPAS friendly.


If DOGMAN disappoints or does not meet its already big expectations, will Italy opt for Alice Rohrwacher’s LAZZARO FELICE? The film is a high-concept story (time travel) and if executed well, could be a fresh entry in this category. The film is already leading Neil Young’s annual Cannes Palme d’or odds and many are expecting it gets a prize.

  1. From China: ASH IS PUREST WHITE

Reportedly landing a prime Saturday slot on the Cannes schedule and coming from a very respected filmmaker (Zhangke Jia), this one could be a rare prestigious FLF submission from China (last year’s entry? Wolf Warriors 2!). This will remain questionable even if the film nabs a big prize in Cannes due to censorship decisions by the China Film Board that may stop it from actually contending in this category. It’s going to be a ‘wait and see’ situation for this one.

  1. From Japan: SHOPLIFTERS

Japan has been strangely absent from this category ever since its shocking win for DEPARTURES. Asian cinema, in fact, is increasingly overlooked by the FLF committee so we don’t have high hopes for SHOPLIFTERS to buck the trend. Nevertheless, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON gained some notable momentum on the international circuit so if SHOPLIFTERS delivers, it could represent Japan.

  1. From Lebanon: CAPHARNAUM

2018 is shaping up to be a fantastic and historic year for Lebanese cinema. In January 2018, the country scored its first ever Oscar nomination for Ziad Doueiri’s THE INSULT and 4 months later, Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki (TIFF People’s Choice Award winner for WHERE DO WE GO NOW – Sony Classics) became the first Lebanese and Arab female filmmaker to ever compete for the Palme d’or. Her latest is a politically charged story with a child at its center. Look out for this one to become Lebanon’s second shot at the Oscar. It’s definitely going to be the country’s FLF submission. No competition there.

  1. From South Korea: BURNING

Just like Japan and the rest of Asia, South Korea has had no luck in this category. Chang-dong Lee’s latest has great buzz ahead of it but it needs to appeal to AMPAS taste if it wants to be the one that bucks the trend. It’s also not a sure thing to be South Korea’s FLF submission as the country sometimes goes for more commercial, box office its (see last year’s box office smash and FLF submission TAXI DRIVER).

  1. From Egypt: YOMEDDINE

Abu Bakr Shawky’s YOMEDDINE made history when it was announced as an entry in official competition. The film broke major records for Egyptian and Arab cinema: it became the first Egyptian and Arab debut feature to be ever selected in official competition at Cannes, the first Egyptian film selected in official competition since 2012 and only the second international debut feature to be selected in official competition at Cannes in the last 10 years after SON OF SAUL which won the Grand Prix and the FLF Oscar. There’s a high chance Egypt submits YOMEDDINE for FLF consideration. The country has never been shortlisted nor nominated for an FLF Oscar, but CLASH, another Cannes entry albeit in Un Certain Regard, came close. Will YOMEDDINE be the one?

  1. From Iran: THREE FACES

Jafar Panahi’s latest is one of the most anticipated films in official competition this year but the director has been facing a travel ban in Iran. So even if the film is widely lauded and wins big, will Iran go for it? It’s a distant possibility at the moment.

  1. From Kazakhstan: AYKA

After his FLF-submitted (but not nominated) TULPAN, Sergey Dvortsevoy’s first film in 10 years is a dramatic story that celebrates motherhood. It’s almost a lock to represent Kazakhstan considering there won’t be higher profile options to choose from.

  1. From Russia: LETO (SUMMER)

Just like Panahi, Kirill Serebrennikov is also a controversial director back home and may not be able to have his travel ban lifted to attend the festival. Last year, Russia submitted LOVELESS which was critical of Russian society but will they actually go for a more controversial figure such as Serebrennikov?

  1. From Colombia: BIRDS OF PASSAGE

Colombian director Ciro Guerra is back with a new feature that will almost definitely be Colombia’s FLF Oscar submission this year. The director scored a surprise FLF Oscar nomination a few years ago for his black-and-white EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT. Could he surprise again?

  1. From Morocco: SOFIA

Meryem Benm’Barek’s first feature, SOFIA, was one of the Cannes press conference’s surprises. Given that this is the only Moroccan film in Cannes, it could very well be the country’s FLF submission. If the film gets a good reception and a UCR award, it will become the Moroccan frontrunner.

  1. From Tunisia: WELDI

Tunisian director Mohamed ben Attia’s previous feature HEDI was a breakout hit at the Berlin Film Festival and scored a Best Actor prize. Attia’s new film is a political drama centered around a father who discovers his timid son has joined ISIS. The film looks very intriguing and could stand a good chance to be the country’s official FLF submission.


Syria has been in serious turmoil in the past 6 years with a seemingly never-ending war. However, despite the shattering circumstances, the country surprised everyone and made its first ever FLF submission last year with the doc LITTLE GHANDI. If they plan to submit a new feature this year, Gaya Jiji’s MY FAVORITE FABRIC, screening in UCR, could be the one. The film is said to be bold and daring with a female-centric narrative.

Stay tuned for our extensive, on-site Cannes coverage right here on AwardsWatch in 10 days!

[author title=”Mina Takla” image=””]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.[/author]

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