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Entries in foreign films (203)

Thursday
Oct232014

CIFF Foreign Film Oscar Report, Vol. 1: Czech Republic, Finland, Georgia & Uruguay

Tim here. Now that the Chicago Film Festival is all over, I can offer the rest of my thoughts on the official submissions for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar that I was able to catch.

CZECH REPUBLIC: FAIR PLAY
A political drama about sports, or a sports drama about politics? Why not be both, says this film about a teenage track star in 1980s Czechoslovakia, who gets bullied into taking steroids by the government forces that want to show off a whole population of physically gorgeous super-athletes at the 1984 Olympics. The battle being waged over ownership of one’s body and health in a dictatorship is an interesting one, and well presented; lead actress Judit Bárdos is a bit shapeless and superficial in portraying the internal tensions of this conflict, but the film around her has been constructed with enough merciless geometry and clinical coolness that it’s surprisingly able to survive a flat central performance.

Oscar prospects: Eastern European reminiscences about the late Communist period feel like they’re some kind of Oscarbait, but not that many have actually shown up in this category. This is, to be sure, a solid example of the form, and the human interest hook is rock solid. By no means do I expect to see it on the nine-film shortlist, but it’s not going to be a “wait, how did THAT get there?” moment if it manages to do so.

Angry Finnish teens, Georgian corn farming, and Uruguayan Nazi hunters after the jump

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Oct162014

CIFF Foreign Film Oscar Report, Vol. 1: Afghanistan, Italy & Switzerland

Tim here. A week ago today, two things happened: the Academy announced the complete list of submissions for the Best Foreign Language Film race, and the 50th Chicago International Film Festival opened. That's put me in a position to see a lot of those submissions firsthand, and this week and next I'll be sharing my quick thoughts on several of the ones that the Film Experience hasn't otherwise looked at.

AFGHANISTAN: A FEW CUBIC METERS OF LOVE
In a grubby part of Tehran, a population of Afghan refugees ekes out a small living and strives to retain their culture and sense of worth while dodging the police. Against this background, a young Afghan woman (Hasiba Ebrahimi) and an Iranian boy (Saed Soheili) fall in love, only to find their relationship threatened when her father decides to flee Iran. So it's yet another Romeo & Juliet riff, although in this case the unexpected context gives it some freshness, and the film does good work balancing its depiction of the hard life of the refugees in an unfriendly place with the romantic plot. Ebrahimi and Soheili also have excellent, unforced chemistry with each other, making for an especially appealing representation of a stock scenario. It's a little minor and not too daring, but it's awfully moving.

Oscar prospects: Stranger things have happened, though central Asia hasn't done all that well here over the years, and the realist style is a little on the chilly side. I suspect it would have to be one of the films swept in by executive decision, and there are bigger-name titles that are much likelier to receive that boost.

Israeli divorce, Italian essay, and Swiss gays after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Oct152014

Foreign Oscar Watch: Gett - The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Though TIFF & NYFF are over, London and Chicago Fests are still raging. We will have a few reports from each to cover more Oscar Submissions for Best Foreign Language Film. Here's our London friend David on Israel's Oscar submission.

It's your right, but it's not your choice."

We're in an Israeli rabbinical courtroom, and Viviane Amsalem wants a divorce. Absolutely, say the judges, no problem - as long as your husband agrees. He doesn't. Viviane will spend years returning to this courtroom, and the audience will spend two hours trapped in it with her, absurdity and desperation rising and falling as we skip forward in time, the temporal intertitles ('Four Months Later') quickly accumulating a farcical impression that's only tempered by the occasional grave addendum of how many years these shifts have accumulated to. Laughter comes because the reality of the situation is too archaic to believe.

Ronit Elkabetz writes, directs and stars as Viviane

Gett - The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is a social justice picture, make no mistake. Though delivered with a healthy dose of humour, the undercurrent of the picture is bitter outrage, as a very simple message is strung out to breaking point. Viviane is almost constantly surrounded by men: her sympathetic, dogmatic lawyer Carmel Ben Tovim, the three impatient judges, her husband Elisha. For much of the film, director-writer-actress Ronit Elkabetz carries Viviane with a quiet dignity, seething with an awareness that the best way to her goal might be to let the men fight for it. When she does speak, it is not cowed and submissive or (initially) passionately angry; her first big speech is delivered with such measured power that the judges are visibly taken aback in involuntary respect.

With its settings restricted to the courtroom building, Gett could easily have ended up feeling like a staid stage play, but instead it oozes with a claustrophobia more mental than physical; the audience is trapped with Viviane in this cyclical nightmare, never granted any view of how her marriage exists outside of the courtroom. That's because, quite simply, that isn't the point; the men spend hours deliberating over why she deserves a divorce, over what her husband could possibly done to cause this, but the only necessary reason for Viviane to be granted a divorce should be because she wants one. No more, no less. The further into the film we get, the more painful it becomes, as every last drop of emotion is wrung from Viviane as she pleads, cries, begs for her request to be granted.

Elkabetz and sibling co-director Shlomi Elkabetz marry this torturous process with a smart tone of absurdist comedy; the judges, in particular, provide an abundance of weary amusement as they become increasingly impatient with the process themselves. Ultimately, though, it is with searing vitriol that the ludicrous indignity of the Jewish laws are held up to face charges; as Ronit Elkabetz put it in the post-screening Q&A, it seems incredible that such situations continue to exist "in a country that is called a democracy". 

Gett - The Trial of Viviane Amsalem screened as part of the 58th BFI London Film Festival.

Oscar submission charts here.
17 Foreign Oscar Submissions Reviewed
ArgentinaAustraliaBelgiumBrazilCanadaCuba,FranceGermanyIceland, Israel, LatviaMauritaniaNorwayPolandPortugalSweden and Venezuela

Wednesday
Oct152014

Link Link Link Went the Bloggie

A veritable cavalcade? avalanche? orgy? of links this morning from news stories we haven't covered through interesting film tidbits and showbiz articles we wanted to point out for various reasons.

bigscreen
Vanity Fair looks back at the making of now 20 year old Pulp Fiction
Fox Searchlight Birdman gets an incredible series of city-specific movie posters. Hopefully various movie theaters around the country will latch on to this. Such a fun idea.
The Spy in the Sandwich looks at Oscar's resistance to Asian cinema in the Foreign Language Film category and The Phillipines in particular
Variety Jason Reitman doing another "Live Read" of American Beauty on Thursday in LA, this time with his Men Women and Children cast 


The Wire on where Jason Reitman (Labor Day, Men Women and Children) went wrong
Awards Daily Meryl Streep on the set of Ricky and the Flash
NonFics 10 essential documentaries on sex and sexuality. I've only seen one of these, the experimental and memorable Zoo (2007) but it's not for the sensitive but it's brilliant
In Contention can Paramount toss a lifeboat to Noah for awards traction?
MNPP manages the internet's only 100% appropriate response to news that Javier Bardem might do the next Pirates of the Caribbean movies with Johnny Depp
Boy Culture 'Nick the Gardener' is going to be in Magic Mike XXL
The Wrap Benedict Cumberbatch gets political on tour for The Imitation Game. He's had it with religious fundamentalism. (Haven't we all?)
Variety looks at the new efficient micro-targeting for ethnic audiences from this past weekend's Addicted through last year's Hispanic hit Instructions Not Included

Why am I not linking to any Marvel Universe news that has been dominating the web for the past 48 hours (yet more Doctor Strange and Avengers rumors)? It's like this: Avengers: The Age of Ultron isn't out for another seven months and we haven't even seen a trailer and people are already speculating endlessly about the sequel after its next sequel. This madness has to stop. The balance is way way off and I wish other far more powerful movie sites would realize this. It's fun to speculate and look ahead, sure. But Jesus. Can we stick to the next year's worth of stuff? Rather than the stuff the unseen still unknown content of that stuff might lead to?

smallscreen & other randomness
Salon smart fascinating piece on Twin Peaks' influence over the television landscape spurred on by the announcement that the show will return. I'm confused why I didn't post about that as it's easily among my four immortal TV loves (if you must know the others are: Buffy, Mad Men, and My So Called Life)
AV Club Agents of SHIELD finally gets a near-great episode with double the Ming-Na Wen. She's so good on this show and it's just now realizing it in the second season.
THR Awesome director Steve McQueen is ALSO going to TV (argh) with a series about a gifted young African American testing the limits of social mobility for HBO called Codes of Conduct
Popwatch a beautiful piece on the mother/daughter relationship at the heart of Gilmore Girls and how revolutionary it was for television. A truth: I had never seen this show before, apart from I think one random episode, so I've been watching it on Netflix and it is adorable and everyone was right about it all along and why didn't I watch at the time?
Dangerous Minds just how beautiful was Karen Carpenter's voice?  
Empire First reveals of Netflix Daredevil series poster and stills 
Sound on Sight Closure is important on television
The Daily Beast the great animated series Archer drops the name of their spy org "ISIS" - now what to do with all that merchandise from a name that was once funny and is no longer 

It's All GONE GIRL All The Time round the web
On the post-production...

New Yorker "What Gone Girl is really about"
New Yorker "Marriage is an abduction"
iTunes you can now buy the "Amazing Amy" books as featured in the film/book 
Antagony & Ecstasy Tim Brayton's review...  

And for all that it's perfect, I find that Gone Girl suffers from that most amorphous and indescribable and subjective of artistic flaws: I just didn't like it. 

 

The Sweeney SistersBELATED RIP 
I am terribly sorry that I forgot to acknowledge the passing of Jan Hooks, who died way too young at 57, this past Thursday. But please know that she was easily among my favorite SNL players of all time - definite top 10 material of their 141ish cast members to date were I ever to make a list. I adored the Sweeney Sisters (her lounge lizard duets with Nora Dunn) and of course her off-SNL stint as a tour guide at the Alamo in Pee Wee's Big Adventure is immortal. It may well be the single movie scene I've seen more than any other as people I hung out with in high school and then a different set of friends I lived with during college all loved that movie and had that scene memorized and somehow it was frequently thrown in the VHS or DVD players for insta-laughs. What's your favorite Jan Hooks contribution to TV or film? Saturday Night Live honored her with a clip reel tribute.

Tuesday
Oct142014

Top Ten: Most Deserving Oscar Wins of the Decade (thus far)

It's a special "top ten day" to kick off fall film season. Lists all day long. Enjoy!

As we move into awards seasons it's a good time to think positively and hope for the best. Though AMPAS is too high profile to ever get an entirely fair shake (people will always take them to task because one man's treasure is another's junk and because it's easier to remember the gross dereliction of their duties more than their classy moments) they don't screw up all the time. Some Oscar wins are highly deserved no matter how you look at it. Though it seems weird to call this young decade "the Teens" already given that we've just left the pre-teens, that's what it'll surely be called when it wraps in December 2019

MOST DESERVING OSCAR WINS OF 'THE TEENS' (thus far)
2010-2013 

Honorable Mention
 Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables (2012 Supporting Actress)
"I Dreamed a Dream" and its fearful preamble "At the End of the Day" had seismic emotional impact. Performances this raw are always risky (and usually divisive!) but I'll never forget her confrontational mix of anger, sorrow, memory and beauty; a woman staring into the abyss, still stunned she's at the brink of it.

MOST DESERVING OSCAR WINS OF 'THE TEENS' (thus far)
2010-2013 

10ish  Christian Bale, The Fighter (2010 Supporting Actor)
Christopher PlummerBeginners (2011 Supporting Actor)
I couldn't decide which of these fine actors I wanted on the list and on an earlier draft I accidentally left both off as a result. Oops. Both are arguably leads, so it felt a bit strange to include them but they are two very fine instances of overdue actors finally winning the top gong. While they probably won at least in part as "whole career" honors, that much derided Oscar tactic that often gives actors Oscars for one of their lesser performances, doesn't always backfire; both were, happily, incredibly deserving.


09 Lupita N'Yongo, 12 Years a Slave (2013 Supporting Actress)
A close call, perhaps, with "It Girl" JLaw nipping at her barefeet. Or maybe not close at all given how much of its operatic sorrow the sometimes cerebral Best Picture owes to her proud wails and immeasurable pain.  "I'd rather it be you" 

8 more greats after the jump from Gravity to A Separation

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Oct092014

Everything You Wanted To Know About the Foreign Film Race*... (*but were afraid to ask Pt.1)

Tonight The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences released the official list of Best Foreign Language Film Submissions that have qualified for the big show. There are 83 competitors this year, breaking the record by 7 films and in January 11% of those (aka 9 films... I think it really should be 12 each year) will move on to the "finals" from which 5 nominees will be chosen. In a long overdue adjustment to the category the names of the winning film's director will be placed on the statue alongside the country. Previously it was just the country which is silly because nobody would claim that Pedro Almodovar, Ingmar Bergman or Federico Fellini didn't win this category, you know?

The Film Experience's Official Submission Charts, the most comprehensive collection of the nominees on the web, are fully updated with posters, official charts, running times and more.

Pt. 1 Afghanistan through Ethiopia - 25 submissions
Pt. 2 Finland through Nepal -30 submissions
Pt. 3 Peru through Venezuela -28 submissions

READY TO DIG A LITTLE FURTHER? Let's break those 83 films down further and see what we're really looking at this year. Which countries are submitting for the first time? Which popular countries are STILL waiting for their first win? Are there familiar stars in the mix? Read on to find out... 

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Oct052014

NYFF: Beloved Sisters

"...and that is why you should nominate us for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars."Our NYFF coverage continues with Nathaniel learning a 'don't procrastinate lesson'

This will be brief though the movie is not. IMDb lists the running time of Beloved Sisters, a fine new costume drama, as 138 minutes. The version that screened this past week at NYFF was 170 minutes long or nearly three hours. I do not know which version AMPAS  foreign language film committee will be screening but as soon as I find out I'll share. I do know this: a 170 minute long movie in which you can't read any of your notes (due to scribbling on the same line repeatedly in the dark) should be written up immediately and not left to swiss cheese memory. 

Beloved Sisters is a true(ish) story about sisters Charlotte (Henriette Confurius) and Caroline (Hannah Herzprung) and the talented man they fall for (Florian Stetter as Friedrich Schiller). The sisters are the best of friends but for financial reasons they have to part; Their mother widowed, Caroline marries for money to help support her family. As the movie begins, Charlotte is now old enough to be shopped around town... excuse me "introduced into high society" as well. Though Charlotte is lovely and (mostly) obedient, she doesn't have the right temperament to acclimate to stuffy society events, aristocratic mores, and arranged marriages. Instead she wants to marry the penniless poet Schiller who will eventually become famous, hence the interest in making a movie about this at all over 225 years later. Her mother, in need of money, doesn't approve.

Soon married Caroline is also in love with Friedrich but, in stark contract to most love triangles, the sisters are happy to share him. One near-drowning which ends with Friedrich scandalously naked and warmed by the sisters sets this odd triangle on its two-decade course. Since history is not at all explicit about what went down between Schiller and the sisters he became so close to, there are many theories and Dominik Graf's film fills in the blanks with a kind of lush romanticism that wouldn't be out of place in a swoony romance novel albeit one without the bodice ripping salaciousness. The film is interested, though not heavily invested in the life of the mind and rather timid about sex actually. This doesn't feel like a misstep exactly since Charlotte's ideas of romance is naive and youthful and the character arcs largely involve the three of them accepting the compromises and difficulties of marriages and friendship.

Though many of the details of the film have slipped by me two weeks later (blame a month of constant film festivalling, not the movie itself) I still remember evocative production design from rich wallpaper to a the delapidated ruins of a family house,  and the wonderfully complicit reading of letters directly to camera. Most of all I remember the first half (which flies by) when love is new and all consuming. Beloved Sisters feels more ordinary the longer it plays, unfortunately, but the first half has a charming youthful idealism and a firm grasp on illicit if modest thrills that come from soulmate devotion, and secretive infatuations like a Heavenly Creatures without the blood spattering psychosis.

Previous NYFF Reviews here. Oscar submission charts here
16 Foreign Oscar Submissions Reviewed:  ArgentinaAustraliaBelgiumBrazilCanadaCuba,FranceGermanyIcelandLatviaMauritaniaNorwayPolandPortugalSweden and Venezuela