Introducing ‘25 Best International Feature Film Contenders That Are Not Parasite,’ a 5-part series by Carlos Aguilar, his first for AwardsWatch. In this series, Carlos will examine the 25 most likely contenders to make the 10-film shortlist then the final five that will earn Oscar nominations. First up: Algeria, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia and Czech Republic.
Deservingly, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite has attained a nearly unanimous front-runner status not only for the Best International Feature Film Academy Award, but likely for nominations across multiple categories including Best Picture. The devilishly satisfying thriller has joined an elite club of movies in a foreign language that have entered the industry’s general consciousness (e.g. Roma, Amour, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).
At this point listing Joon-ho’s masterwork as a candidate for anything less than a win feels redundant, so we’ve chosen to focus on what other countries have put forward this year.
Propelled by awards-minded screenings, FYC ads on the trades, and word of mouth from one member to another, a substantial list of titles among the 91 entries still in contention (after Nigeria and Austria were disqualified for containing more English-language dialogue than the Academy allows) have emerged as possibilities for the December 16 shortlist.
While there’s no certainty on how the general and executive committees will vote, there are films that have continuously generated interest throughout the season beyond South Korea’s surefire stunner. The collection of submissions provides, quite literally, a world of stories, and the 10 finalists could shape up with more interesting variations than those many pundits have mapped out up to now. Let us expand the conversation.
Here are the first five entries we’d like to highlight as potential contenders:
Dir. Mounia Meddour
Thanks to a special exemption granted by AMPAS, Meddour’s women-driven debut feature was allowed to remain in the Oscar race despite not having a commercial release at home after the Algerian government forcefully cancelled it. Set in the North African country during the 1990s Civil War, Papicha follows a teenage girl with dreams of becoming a fashion designer. As radical ideologies take control of everyday life around her, Nedjma (Lyna Khoudri) refuses to relinquish her freedom to dance, to create, and to dress as she pleases. Sometimes, in the face of brutal oppression, the most innocuous of actions are the bravest. Empowering and hopeful, this period piece is undeniably timely.
Belgium – Our Mothers
Dir. César Díaz
Curiously, the European nation’s entry this year tells a story tied to Guatemala’s recent past. The Spanish-language drama was co-produced by both countries, which are inextricably link via the director’s personal history: Díaz was born in Guatemala but eventually migrated to Belgium where he now works and resides. Winner of the Caméra d’Or at Cannes, Our Mothers grapples with the deadly aftermath of the 1980s military dictatorship from the perspective of a young forensic anthropologist piecing together the lives of those murdered providing a sense of closure to their families, including his own. Mexican actor Armando Espitia plays the conflicted lead in this powerful narrative.
Brazil – Invisible Life
Dir. Karim Aïnouz
Based on the 2016 novel by Martha Batalha, this self-appointed “tropical melodrama” tracks the heartbreaking separation between siblings Eurídice (Carol Duarte) and Guida (Julia Stockler) in 1940s Rio de Janeiro. Sumptuous cinematography courtesy of French DP Hélène Louvart, and nuanced performances capture the pair’s yearning for sisterhood in the face of a sexist society that banishes one of them into anonymity and forces the other to give up her artistic aspirations for an arranged marriage. A tears-worthy supporting part for Oscar-nominated, veteran actress Fernanda Montenegro helps cement its case for a nomination. Having Amazon Studios as U.S. distributor should also help.
Colombia – Monos
Dir. Alejandro Landes
Breathtaking and brutal, Landes’ visionof war through the eyes of a group of teenage guerrilla soldiers penetrates the senses with its striking imagery and Mica Levi’s beautifully disorienting score. Without specific details regarding the conflict we are witnessing, Monos functions as an unforgettable reflection on the human conditions when pushed to the limits of its physical and mental abilities. Colombian-American actor Moisés Arias gives the most impressive turn of his career, and plays opposite Julianne Nicholson and a cast of brilliant young non-actors. Visceral throughout, the film may not resonate strongly with voters who prefer more straightforward storytelling. Still, it’s a major achievement.
Czech Republic – The Painted Bird
Dir. Václav Marhoul
Bleak beauty permeates this World War II tale adapted from the 1965 novel by Jerzy Kosiński about an unnamed Jewish boy traveling across Eastern Europe. Although starring international stars Harvey Keitel, Stellan Skarsgård, and Udo Kier, The Painted Bird is a challenging work to both for its nearly three-hour running time and even more so its depictions of violence. Marhoul’s feature made headlines after some of its unflinching sequences prompted walkouts at the fall festivals. Nevertheless, the high caliber of Vladimír Smutný’s black-and-white cinematography and the importance of its subject matter could score support. IFC Films will release the film theatrically next year.
Originally from Mexico City, Carlos Aguilar was chosen as one of 6 young film critics to partake in the first Roger Ebert Fellowship organized by RogerEbert.com, the Sundance Institute and Indiewire in 2014. Aguilar’s work has appeared in prestigious publications such as Los Angeles Times, The Wrap, Indiewire, Vulture, RogerEbert.com, MovieMaker Magazine, Remezcla, Filmmaker Magazine, Variety Latino, Slate, Bustle, Americas Quarterly, among others. He is a member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA).