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Sauna Movie 'Steam of Life' to Become 1st Best Foreign Language Film Nonfiction Oscar Nominee?

Sauna movie Steam of Life: naked men exposing themselves 1st Best Foreign Language Film doc nominee?Sauna movie Steam of Life: Joonas Berghäll and Mika Hotakainen's Finnish hit about naked men exposing themselves – emotionally – to become the first documentary shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar?

Sauna movie 'Steam of Life' & feel-good 'Simple Simon' among northern European Best Foreign Language Film Oscar hopefuls

The sauna movie Steam of Life, the socially conscious psychological tragedy Tirza, the sentimental comedy Simple Simon, and the “dark side of (Scandinavian) life” drama The Angel are four potential 2011 Academy Award contenders in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

These are, respectively, the submissions from four northern European countries: Finland, The Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway.

Men expose themselves in Finnish sauna movie

Set in various Finnish saunas, Joonas Berghäll and Mika Hotakainen's Steam of Life / Miesten vuoro features about a dozen or so men discussing their hopes and troubles. A hit in Finland, the sauna movie was one of the documentaries shortlisted at the 2010 European Film Awards.

Now, it's unclear how they were able to get directors, camera person(s), sound person(s), and assorted crew members inside the various saunas featured in Steam of Life. Here's one partial explanation: according to the film's press release, “the camera was warmed to a hot iron temperature, and the filmmakers peeled off layers of their clothes.”

Regardless of how it was done, Heikki Färm and Jani Kumpulainen's cinematography is striking.

Sauna movie to break new ground at the Oscars?

In Southern California, Steam of Life will be screened at the Palm Springs Film Festival and at Los Angeles' Scandinavian Film Festival, both to be held in January 2011.

And in case Berghäll and Hotakainen's sauna movie gets a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination, seems like it'll be the first live action documentary to achieve that feat. (Last year, Ari Folman's autobiographical animated feature Waltz with Bashir, considered a nonfiction film, was shortlisted in the Best Foreign Language Film category.)

Out in Africa

Directed by Rudolf van den Berg (The Cold Light of Day, The Johnsons) following an eight-year hiatus, Tirza is a complex psychological drama in which a middle-aged Dutchman (Gijs Scholten van Aschat) comes unglued while attempting to find his missing daughter in Namibia. During his search he's befriended by a nine-year-old local girl who also happens to be a sex worker.

Based on a novel by Arnon Grunberg, Tirza has received highly favorable reviews in the Dutch media. Whether the generally conservative Best Foreign Language Film-voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will go for the graphic dialogue and situations, the fragmented narrative (adapted by van den Berg), and the disturbing (though not exactly unpredictable) finale is something else.

Simple Simon with Bill Skarsgard Cecilia Forss: Foreign Language Film entry is Academy-friendly sentimental comedySimple Simon with Bill Skarsgård and Cecilia Forss. Unlike Finland's unusual sauna movie, Sweden's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar submission – Andreas Öhman's Simple Simon – is an Academy-friendly sentimental comedy featuring elements from a variety of hit movies, from The Eighth Day to A Beautiful Mind.

Academy-friendly Swedish comedy

More to the Academy's tastes is Andreas Öhman's feel-good comedy Simple Simon / I rymden finns inga känslor, in which an 18-year-old (Bill Skarsgård; one of Stellan Skarsgård's sons) suffering from Asperger's syndrome tries to make sure things remain (sort of) the same as ever by hooking up his caring brother (Martin Wallström) with a free-spirited woman (Cecilia Forss).

Written by Öhman and Jonathan Sjöberg, like a number of other movies about mental disabilities, Simple Simon offers sentiment à la Jaco Van Dormael's Belgian/French blockbuster The Eighth Day, familial devotion à la Lasse Hallström's What's Eating Gilbert Grape, a quirky central character à la Barry Levinson's 1988 Best Picture Oscar winner Rain Man, and “inner-mind illustrations” reminiscent of Ron Howard's 2001 Best Picture Oscar winner A Beautiful Mind.

As far as its Oscar chances are concerned, these are all good signs for the Swedish entry.

Bleak Norwegian drama

At the other extreme from Simple Simon is Margreth Olin's The Angel / Engelen, a heavy-duty drama about how child abuse and neglect eventually leads to an adult life of self-abuse and self-neglect.

Maria Bonnevie stars as Lea, a young heroin addict who gives her baby up for adoption because she realizes she will be unable to care for it. As a girl, Lea had seen her mother (a remarkable portrayal by Swedish actress Gunilla Röör) be repeatedly beaten by her alcoholic second husband (capable Finnish film veteran Antti Reini).

The Angel is unrelentingly bleak – not necessarily in terms of lighting, but definitely in its handling of the various dysfunctional characters. That's not exactly up the Academy voters' alley, but the performances are generally solid. Had The Angel been an English-language production, Röör and Reini might have had a chance in the acting categories.

Upcoming Academy screenings

RSVPs: Tatsfilm.asst@gmail.com or (310) 260-2800

Sunday, Dec. 19, 11 a.m.
SIMPLE SIMON by Andreas Öhman (Sweden).
Laemmle Theater
1332 2nd Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401.

Sunday, Dec. 26, 11 a.m.
THE ANGEL by Margreth Olin (Norway).
Laemmle Theater
1332 2nd Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401.

Monday, Dec. 27, 7 p.m.
STEAM OF LIFE by Joonas Berghäll & Mika Hotakainen (Finland).
Wilshire Screening Room
8670 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211.

Sunday, Jan. 2, 11 a.m.
TIRZA by Rudolf van den Berg (The Netherlands).
Laemmle Theater
1332 2nd Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401.

 

Image from Joonas Berghäll and Mika Hotakainen's sauna movie Steam of Life: Oktober / Röde Orm Film.

Cecilia Forss and Bill Skarsgård Simple Simon image: Niklas Johansson / Svensk Filmindustri.


         
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