2015's TIFF has concluded and we tried to catch a few of the Foreign Language Oscar submissions while we were there. We've already written about Colombia's Embrace of the Serpent so here are two more official entries from Norway and Portugal
Oscar Trivia Notes: Portugal holds the sad statistic of being the country with the most annual submissions (32 in total) to have never been nominated. This category was established as an annual competitive event back in 1956 and Portugal began submitting in 1980 - they've missed only a few years of the competition since. Norway has fared better. Though Israel, Mexico, and Belgium, lead this particular statistic, Norway is stuck in a tie for fourth place with Greece for "the most nominated country that has yet to win the foreign film Oscar." Norway has been nominated five times. More fun stats here. I'd suggest that The Wave didn't have a prayer of being nominated except that the last time Oscar went for a Norwegian film it was a similarly conventional mainstream adventure (Kon-Tiki) so who knows.
The Wave (Norway, Roar Uthaug)
The best thing one can and should say about this disaster epic from Norway is that it's just as good as your average American entry in this crowded genre and it does that with a significantly lower budget while sticking closer to plausible science in its action sequences. It keeps things more intimate, keeping a tight focus on one family and a group of coworkers, and building slowly to the money shot disaster. The tsunami doesn't happen until well into the running time but The Wave keeps you interested regardless. It's no surprise that Norway submitted it since it is a massive blockbuster there. According to the director's intro at the public screening over half a million people at home had already bought tickets to it in less than a month. (Can you imagine 10% of the US population going to any single movie in a month's time frame? It just doesn't happen. I think American Sniper could argue it got there but not in one month's time!) Still The Wave has the same ugly problem of valuing one blond family's welfare over everyone else's entire existence that got The Impossible into trouble with critics. Although The Wave has a better excuse for its total whiteness since it's Norway (which is very white) not Thailand! But The Wave is even more ruthless about placing the sanctity of this one family's unity and love and survival above anyone else, though I shan't spoil why that is. Nevertheless the movie is exciting to watch, the three principal actors are charming (including Ane Dahl Torp who also starred in Norway's submission last year 1001 Grams) and Norwegian movies can always be counted on for sublime scenery -- even when that scenery turns malevolent -- but boy is this thing cliche-ridden and predictable! B-
Arabian Nights Volume 2: The Desolate One (Portugal, Miguel Gomes)
I attended the middle feature of this trilogy, the one that was Oscar submitted because the director claims you needn't see the three films in order, with Nick and Amir as my final film of TIFF. They both emerged from the screenings with missionary zeal about its brilliance. Nick considers the trilogy the movie event of the year. I'm not as gaga for it though I admit that part of that may well be that I a) didn't get it and b) I have a well known lack of tolerance for artists that can't self-edit and long running times and a 7 hour three part movie in which every sequence (that I've seen) has dead space pushes these buttons for me in a big way. I'll let Amir review the trilogy proper since he's a true fan but I will say despite my reservations on the length of the project as a whole and even this third of it (which is itself over 2 hours long) it is often quite funny and provocative in its pile-up of politics, storytelling idiosyncracies, and nonsensical events (as an example of the latter at one point a character turns invisible and seems to teleport with a muscle flexing grunt and this has nothing at all to do with the story or the scene or the narration or the political content as far as I can gather)
Miguel Gomes, who previous directed the whatsit Tabu (that critics were also besotted with), is in his own way as weird and singular an auteur as Thailand's Apichatpong Weerathasakul. His movies could not be accidentally mistaken for anyone else's and that, should you be in doubt, is a huge compliment. This trilogy is NOT an adaptation of the classic Arabian Nights but just borrows its structure with this version of Scheherazade telling us fables about poverty, politics, and social justice that are drawn from / comment on the Austerity period in Portugal that impoverished many of its citizens.
To make this trilogy project even more confusing, each volume has multiple stories within it. Volume 2 has three plus separate stories: the first is about "a man without bowels" who is being hunted by the police; the second, my preference, is about a Judge trying a case in what looks like an ancient greek theater which becomes more and more absurd and abstract and continually finds new people to blame as it progresses; the last is the story of an raggedy poodle named "Dixie" and her rotating people who have to keep giving her up. Dixie is a total cutie and won "the Palme Dog" at Cannes.
To make this volume even more confusing, the story of Dixie has several nested stories within it about the residents of a particular apartment building which have nothing at all to do with Dixie though other pets come into play (Gomes movies seem fascinated by animals be they dogs, alligators, parrots, cats, or whatnot). Describing the abundant oddity is nearly impossible: people turn invisible, cows speak at trials, naked ladies bake cakes. Real Oscar Bait, people! WTF
Related: There are now 61 official submission titles so make sure to check out the updated foreign film charts.
The full official submission list will be published around October 1st with probably about 10 more titles joining this current lineup. Generally speaking at least one of the previously announced titles mysteriously vanishes or is replaced when the official list is published.