Every year, the Oscar nominations are full of surprises and snubs. It is no secret that the nomination process is often influenced by several factors in addition to the craft of the film such as aggressive publicity campaigns, controversies (not sorry for you, Mr. Franco), the political mood, and unfortunately, prejudice (#OscarsSoWhite). Unlike the race for the Best Picture, where films enjoy a level playing field only in the US (at times, the UK as well), the foreign language entries have to undergo this rigorous process twice. The film boards of each participating country analyse their respective films along the same parameters locally before submitting them to the Academy. This year, a record 92 countries submitted their entries, but only five can ever make the cut. #DSSCRecommends four foreign language films that are worth your time despite not bearing the ‘Academy Award Nominee’ tag.
BPM (Beats Per Minute)
Robin Campillo, France
Set during the Paris chapter of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in the 1990s, the film charts the story of HIV-positive Sean and his HIV-negative partner, Nathan. Campillo draws from his own experience with ACT UP and deftly proposes gay sex as an expression of utmost kindness and generosity against a backdrop of public health crisis and social stigma. Without resorting to a morbid tone, even as Sean’s condition steadily deteriorates, Campillo playfully juxtaposes the political and personal in this Grand Prix winner (Cannes). In the words of NPR’s Bob Mondello, “[Campillo] humanizes a pandemic that’s often viewed in terms of numbers of antibodies, infections, deaths.”
Alain Gomis, Senegal
Félicité’s 14-year old son gets injured in an accident and risks losing his leg. To arrange money for his immediate treatment, the singer must seek the help of her contemptuous boss and hostile family. The film captures the gritty reality of everyday life in Kinshasa, the capital of Congo, which is riddled with corruption and misogyny, but does so with a remarkable generosity of spirit. The street scenes give the film the semblance of a documentary while its music is an ode to life’s embrace of joy, sorrow, and wonder. The two approaches work together to make it look like a concert film. Félicité is also a meticulous character study in which the protagonist’s suffering in isolation is not the centre of the film, but instead it enables — and emboldens — her to grow outwards towards the world. While this Senegalese entry to the Oscars did not make the final cut of five, it has myriad accolades to its name; the film made it to the December shortlist after winning the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin International Festival, the Best Film at FESPACO, and setting a new record at the Africa Movie Academy Awards by taking home six statues.
On the Beach at Night Alone
Hong Sang-soo, South Korea
Based on the director’s own extra-marital affair with Kim Min-hee, the leading actress of the film, On the Beach at Night Alone, is understood by many to be an act of penance. We see Young-hee going from Berlin to South Korea, whilst contemplating her failed relationship with a movie director. With conversations flowing between Young-hee and her friend, the film delves into sorrow and thoughtfulness, and the layers of misunderstanding and awkwardness that govern power dynamics between the sexes. More importantly, its strength lies in imbuing these familiar insights with refreshing absurdity. With her captivating performance, Kim Min-hee became the first Korean actress to win the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2017.
#DSSCTopTip: While the film is considered one of Hong Sang-soo’s finest, its themes are not particularly accessible to those unfamiliar with his body of work. We recommend checking out Woman is the Future of Man (2004), HaHaHa (2010), and Right Now, Wrong Then (2015).
John Trengove, South Africa
Trengove, a white director, takes up the challenge of focusing his lens on a practice that is essential to the blacks in South Africa. The Wound is set within the Xhosa community in rural South Africa where teenage boys undergo Ukwaluka, an annual rite of passage that involves circumcision without anaesthesia to symbolise their transition to adulthood. The emphasis on hyper-masculinity is complicated by the queerness of three characters, one of whom begins to question the relevance of this outmoded and painful ritual. A first-time director, Trengove avoids making a case for or against Ukwaluka, and the film shines in its sincerity in not devolving into an ethnographic tour. The Wound also marks the acting debut of musician Nakhane Touré, who is terrifically convincing in his role as Xolani, a caretaker who must keep his gay identity a secret. The film was shortlisted for nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category in December.
The final nominees are:
A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
The Insult (Lebanon)
On Body and Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)