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Friday
Sep082017

TIFF: Foreign Oscar Hopefuls from Hungary & Belgium

by Nathaniel R

On day one of TIFF two official Oscar foreign film submissions, one emphatically weird but kind of irresistible and the other mainstream but lush and erotically charged.

what's that panda doing in her bed?

On Body and Soul (Hungary)
Written and directed by Ildikó Enyedi 

Ildikó Enyedi first came to niche fame in 1989 winning the Camera d'Or at Cannes for My Twentieth Century the story of identical twins separated as children who both board the Orient Express as much different adults unaware of the other. The film had a succesful arthouse run in the US and was submitted but not nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. 28 years later Enyedi is winning prizes again for another film that concerns doubling...

In her Berlinale winner, the twinning is spiritual for two lonely co-workers. Their connection is unlikely. He is much older and partially disabled and she is on the spectrum and deeply uncomfortable with his attempts at conversation and touch. What's more their jobs don't allow for much interaction; she's a quality checker which naturally puts her at a remove from all co-workers. A suspicious event at work has several co-workers comparing dreams (long story - no spoilers because the plot is delicious in its oddity) which leads these two to explore their feelings for each other, albeit never comfortably.

the stars of "On Body and Soul"s memorable dream sequences

Though the film moves slowly it's never less than gripping. Both lead actors Géza Morcsányi and Alexandra Borbély are resourceful despite inarticulate characters. Before you've realized it, you're deeply invested in their sadness and a potential happy ending. The leads are well supported by an ensemble that does a lot of endearingly funny and/or perplexed character work at the edges. The filmmaking, too, is involving with curious moods in its writing, editing, and sound work. How richly satisfying that this movie about odd couple spiritual twins would boast such expressive duality in its cinematography (I'll keep an eye out for the career of Máté Herbai from now on). Herbai manages to braid wintry cool dreams and harsh warm sunlit reality into one cohesive yet incongruous aesthetic, calming and discomfiting at once.

Fair Warning: The film's workplace setting (a slaughterhouse) is thankfully at odds with its general sensitivity about animals in key lines of dialogue, dream sequences and humorous asides. But there is one short gruesome sequence early in the film which I had to cover my eyes through involving the body of a freshly slaughtered cow. 

The Racer and the Jailbird (Belgium)
Directed by: Michael R Roskam (Bullhead)
Written by: Thomas Bidegain, Noe Debre, and Michael R Roskam

Gigi (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a charismatic thief who falls for an upscale race car driver named Bibi (Adèle Exarchopoulos). The whirlwind romance (and, frankly, hot sexual chemistry) alters both of their lives irrevocably. Once they've realized that they can't go on if Gigi doesn't abandon his criminal past, their romantic road gets bumpy.  Which leads right where you'd expect into "one last job!" suspense. The predictably of the tropes is, one suspects, part of the plan. Elsewhere the film allows itself a couple of idiosyncracies in characterization, rhythm and plotting. If only the film adopted more of Bibi's aggressive impatience behind the wheel. Gigi doesn't just speed on the racetrack but the film saves all its speed for its action elements and slows down repeatedly everywhere else with its chapter-like approach and way-too-generous running time. It's not a good idea to stall momentum in a story that's marching its players inexorably towards tragedy.

With its full emphatic score, mainstream genre fusion (tragic romance / crime drama), and enraptured gazing at movie stars, The Racer and the Jailbird is clearly going for Movie-Movie scale. Some of that works, mostly thanks to its lushness and the beauty and talent of its stars.

Grades: OBAS: B+/A-; TRATJ: B-
Oscar Chances: In both cases this is a tough call. The Academy's tastes in this category are notoriously unpredictable. Since the changes in their process this past decade has seen them embracing more challenging critically lauded fare. That could bode well for Hungary but AMPAS is also fond of expensive looking movies and familiarity (with stars and directors) in this category which could bode well for Belgium. It's easy to imagine a finalist situation but a nomination could be a tough hurdle for either.

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Reader Comments (6)

Redo the math in first paragraph. Nice piece, though

September 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRodrigo

28 years later.

September 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

When everything seemed to be settled in Argentina, between La Cordillera (The Summit) and Zama (with Nobody's Watching a possible dark horse) to represent us at the Oscars, there's a last-minute player in the game. Venice Festival's Critics' Week award has gone to first-time director Natalia Garagliola's "Hunting Season". The film is a father-son drama about a hunting guide living in Patagonia who has to contend with a teenage son he practically doesn't know. "Hunting Season" will be released next week, just ahead of the Argentine Academy voting process.
This is the trailer:
https://blog.womenandhollywood.com/trailer-watch-a-grieving-father-son-face-off-in-natalia-garagiolas-hunting-season-f87d0e25b59a

September 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

Thelma by Joachim Trier is gonna represent Norway. The movie has gotten RAVE reviews so far

September 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterManuel

Oh, I think ON BODY & SOUL is definitely in the hunt for the Oscar. People *love* it. It won the Sydney Film Prize when I worked for the Sydney Film Festival earlier this year and every question at the director Q&A afterwards started by saying how it was their favourite film. I think it's whimsy is countered by the violence of its setting and vice versa.

September 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Glenn - good to hear!

Manuel - i know i can't wait to see it. Love Joachim Trier's movies.

September 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

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