Wed. Aug 5th, 2020

2019 Oscars: The State of the Foreign Language Film Race Before Cannes


Following our analysis two weeks ago of next year’s Animated Feature Oscar race, we turn our attention to the 2019 Foreign Language Film race in 2 parts: what has already been seen and what will soon be seen (and covered by AwardsWatch live) at the Cannes Film Festival.

In this analysis piece, we take a look at what has already been seen – in Berlin and at Sundance – and could potentially be part of the September 2019 list of FLF submissions.

2018 Cannes Official Lineup: Spike Lee, Jean-Luc-Godard In Competition; Women Still Underrepresented

While Cannes, the biggest film festival in the world, traditionally brings the biggest FLF contenders, it’s important to remember that out of the eventual 5 FLF nominees last year, two were from Berlin, 1 was from Venice and two were from Cannes.

With Sundance and Berlin revealing some interesting foreign films that can appeal to AMPAS voters, here’s a look at the films that already have a head start in the race – and it will remain to be seen whether Cannes can offer potentially stronger films in this fluid category.

Here are the strongest FLF films that have been already seen and reviewed at Sundance and Berlin:

  1. From Poland: Mug – review

Poland’s Twarz (Mug) by Malgorzata Szumowska won the second biggest prize of the Berlinale this year, the Grand Jury Prize, and will now have to compete with COLD WAR (Pawel Pawlikowski’s latest feature playing in official competition at Cannes 2019 and his follow-up to his FLF Oscar winner IDA). Until COLD WAR is seen and reviewed, we’d argue it’s unwise to dismiss MUG, not only because of its reviews and high-profile win in Berlin but also because it’s catnip for AMPAS voters. The film is entertaining, darkly comedic and most importantly presents a brutal critique of Polish society, something that FLF voters particularly appreciate (see: LOVELESS last year). Keep an eye on that one and we’ll be reverting back to it once we see what happens with COLD WAR. 

  1. From Mexico: Museo (Museum) – review

When we reviewed this in Berlin, we mentioned it was one of the most accessible, crowd-pleasing and impressively made films of the competition. It retells the largest and most ambitious heist on a Mexican Museum in Mexican history and brilliantly uses the heist as a commentary on the shifting Mexican values. There are reports that Netflix had acquired this for streaming and interestingly, they also have Alfonso Cuaron’s ROMA for a release later this year. Just like MUG, MUSEO will have to compete with a higher profile film and only one will eventually be submitted for FLF consideration. It may eventually end up being Cuaron, but it’s interesting to note that none of his previous films were ever submitted for FLF consideration. Could ROMA be seen as a bigger contender overall? With Netflix now backing it, its chances in the topline categories are a bit murky at the moment, but the film has great advance buzz and could be the one that breaks the Netflix curse (MUDBOUND sort of did but failed to also land a Best Pic nomination). With Cannes 2019 missing any major Mexican contenders, it’s likely this will end up being a ROMA vs MUSEO battle. We’ll see. 

  1. From Norway: U – July 22 – review

This one seems a bit safer than the first 2 because Norway hasn’t yet delivered a contender that could challenge this in Cannes (the lineup isn’t yet complete so it’s still possible we see a challenger but so far this looks like the highest-profile player for them). Erik Poppe’s previous film (The King’s Choice) showed up on the FLF shortlist 2 years ago so he’s not an unknown to the Academy and this film delivers one of the most harrowing viewing experiences in 2019. It may be hard to watch but it’s incredibly timely – it retells the 72 minutes of the worst mass shooting in Norway history in the island of Utoya – so it may very well be Norway’s shot to return to this category.

  1. From Paraguay: The Heiresses – review

You can go ahead and call this a lock. Paraguay wowed Berlinale audiences with this LGBTQ film that is quiet but assured. Marcelo Martinessi’s debut feature was one of the festival’s biggest surprises and presented a compelling case for a rising talent and a unique voice in cinema that’s surely worth following. The country also rarely produces films these days and THE HEIRESSES looks as a perfect entry in the race. It may share some similarities with female awakening films (like GLORIA) but if last year is any indication, AMPAS may be finally opening up to Latin American cinema (Chile’s A FANTASTIC WOMAN won the FLF Oscar this year). We hope to see it on the shortlist as it has one of the best final segments for an FLF this year. A gem.

  1. From Denmark: The Guilty

Unfortunately, this is the only film we haven’t seen yet but its reviews were very solid at Sundance and Magnolia (distributor of last year’s FLF nominee THE SQUARE) acquired it for North American distribution. Denmark has a stellar record in this category and has been consistently delivering gems worth celebrating. A debut feature by Gustav Möller, the film centers on an alarm dispatcher and former police officer who answers an emergency call from a kidnapped woman. But when the call disconnects, the dispatcher tries to look for clues to find the woman. He later discovers that he is dealing with a crime that is far more serious and expansive than he imagined. Never count out Denmark whose films usually strike a chord with AMPAS, especially when dealing with morality and human dilemmas. Keep an eye on this one.

Next week, we look at the strongest potential FLF contenders at Cannes once the Critics’ Week and Directors’ Fortnight announce their lineups.

[author title=”Mina Takla” image=”http://”]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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