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Best Foreign Language Film Oscar: 'The Past,' 'Wadjda,' Andrzej Wajda Among Omissions

Best Foreign Language Film The Past Berenice BejoBest Foreign Language Film Oscar 2014: 'The Past,' Berlin winner 'Child's Pose,' Andrzej Wajda among notable omissions (image: Asghar Farhadi's 'The Past,' with Bérénice Bejo)

(See previous post: "Best Foreign Language Film Oscar 2014 semi-finalists: Liv Ullmann, Mads Mikkelsen, Ziyi Zhang star vehicles.") The previous post focused on the nine semi-finalists for the 2014 Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category. This post focuses on the surprising omissions from that list.

'The Past'

The most glaring omission from the Academy's list of Best Foreign Language Film semi-finalists is Asghar Farhadi's Sony Pictures Classics-distributed (in the U.S.) The Past / Le Passé, starring Tahar Rahim and 2013 Cannes Film Festival Best Actress winner Bérénice Bejo. Iran's official Oscar 2014 entry, The Past was considered a shoo-in following overwhelmingly positive notices – e.g., 93 percent approval rating and 8.6/10 average among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics – the fact that both Rahim (A Prophet) and Bejo (The Artist) are relatively well-known players among film connoisseurs in the United States, and that Farhadi's A Separation was voted Best Foreign Language Film nearly two years ago.

It's impossible to figure out why The Past was left out of the list of Best Foreign Language Film semi-finalists, especially as its premise is much more Academy-friendly than, for instance, those of János Szász's bleak The Notebook (despite its World War II setting) or Rithy Panh's The Missing Picture, about Khmer Rouge atrocities in the late '70s.

Other notable Best Foreign Language Film entries bypassed by the Academy's voting committees

  • Sebastián Lelio's feel-good comedy-drama Gloria (Chile). A Spirit Award nominee for Best International Film, Gloria earned star Paulina García the Best Actress Award at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival, in addition to taking home the festival's Ecumenical Jury Prize.
  • Jirí Menzel's The Don Juans (Czech Republic). This particular omission is surprising less because of the film itself than because of its director: the 75-year-old Menzel is an Oscar veteran – Closely Watched Trains, which was recently screened at the Academy, won the 1967 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, while My Sweet Little Village was a 1985 nominee.
  • Gilles Bourdos' Renoir (France). The absence of this drama about French painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (played by Michel Bouquet) from the list of Best Foreign Language Film semi-finalists is noteworthy because Renoir – not Blue Is the Warmest Color – was France's entry for the 2014 Oscar. Due to strict Academy rules, Blue Is the Warmest Color was ineligible for this year's Oscar in that category, as it opened in France after the Academy-imposed cut-off date. Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, the controversial sex/romance drama stars Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux.
  • Andrzej Wajda's Walesa: Man of Hope (Poland). As is the case with Jirí Menzel's The Don Juans, what's surprising is the Academy's Best Foreign Language Film committees bypassing the director, not the film itself. The 87-year-old Polish filmmaker has had four of his films nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar: The Promised Land (1975); The Maids of Wilko (1979); Man of Iron (1981), inspired by Lech Walesa and the Solidarity Movement, and featuring Walesa as himself in a cameo; and Katyn (2007). Jane Fonda presented Wajda with an Honorary Oscar at the 2000 ceremony.
  • Calin Peter Netzer's Child's Pose (Romania) was the Golden Bear winner at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival.
  • Haifaa Al-Mansour's Wadjda (Saudi Arabia). Saudi Arabia's first ever submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award and that country's first feature directed by a woman, Wadjda has won more than a dozen awards from around the globe and has a rare 100 percent approval rating and 8.1/10 average among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics. Like The Past, Wadjda is a Sony Pictures Classics release in the U.S.
  • Anthony Chen's family comedy-drama Ilo Ilo was the 2013 Best Picture Golden Horse winner. Featuring a little boy, family affairs, and a message of tolerance and compassion, Ilo Ilo seemed like perfect Academy fare.
  • Sean Ellis' Metro Manila (United Kingdom) was the World Cinema - Dramatic Audience Award winner at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Additionally, Ellis' crime drama set in the capital of the Philippines won three British Independent Film Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Best Foreign Language Film Academy Awards and top international film festivals

The Academy's Best Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee, which handpicks three titles for that category's list of semi-finalists, doesn't reveal its choices. In the last few years, changes in the selection process have attempted to ensure that prestigious international productions – as opposed to the Best Foreign Language Film voters' preferred sentimental mush – has at least a chance of getting nominated.

Top international festival favorites seem to be given priority. This year, however, Berlin's Child's Pose was left out, Cannes' Blue Is the Warmest Color wasn't submitted, and neither were Venice's Golden Lion winner Sacro GRA, a documentary directed by Gianfranco Rosi, and Mariana Rondón's Venezuelan family comedy-drama Bad Hair, the Golden Shell winner at the 2013 San Sebastian Film Festival.

["Asghar Farhadi's The Past, starring Bérénice Bejo and Tahar Rahim: Surprising Omissions 2014 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar" continues on the next page. See link below.]

Bérénice Bejo in Asghard Farhadi's The Past photo: Sony Pictures Classics.

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