Fifty years after the creation of the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award category, a record 61 countries have submitted films for consideration for the 79th Academy Awards. As per the Academy's press release, Kazakhstan appears to be the sole newcomer.
(Update: It isn't. Kazakhstan submitted Ardak Amirkulov's Gibel Otrara / The Fall of Otrar back in 1992. I found a mention of this on The Film Experience. The Academy confirmed Kazakhstan's 1992 submission.)
Among the entries are Rolf de Heer's Ten Canoes (Australia), filmed in the indigenous language of Ganalbingu, and the winner of the Special Jury Prize of the “Un Certain Regard” sidebar at this year's Cannes Film Festival; Jasmila Zbanic's Berlin Film Festival winner Grbavica (Bosnia and Herzegovina), the tale of a girl who discovers the truth about her father; and Rachid Bouchareb's Indigènes / Days of Glory (Algeria), the story of North Africans fighting for France during World War II, and the winner of an ensemble Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Algeria, by the way, has managed to submit – and get nominations for – films directed by non-Algerians and with strong Franco-Italian financial support (e.g., 1969 winner Z, 1982 nominee Le Bal). Bouchareb, who also directed Algeria's 1995 Oscar nominee Les Poussières de vie / Dust of Life, is of Algerian ancestry, though born and raised in France.
Also, Marcelo Gomes' low-key dramatic comedy Cinema, Aspirina e Urubus / Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures (Brazil), about the unlikely friendship that develops between a Brazilian hick and a German immigrant in the arid Brazilian Northeast; Deepa Mehta's controversial Water (Canada), about the plight of women in the more devout regions of India, and the winner of three Genies; and Zhang Yimou's costume epic Curse of the Golden Flower, starring Gong Li and Chow Yun-Fat.
Egypt's submission, Omaret yakobean / The Yacoubian Building, ran into problems at home. Nationalists and radical Muslims wanted the film banned for its portrayal of human sexuality and corruption in Egyptian society. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's Das Leben der Anderen / The Lives of Others (Germany), also stirred some controversy at home because of its depiction of East Germany's insidious Stasi police (a timely issue, though not necessarily in Germany). A huge box office success at home, Das Leben der Anderen won 7 2006 Lola Awards, including Best Film.
Another political film to be submitted was Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's Rang De Basanti (India), about college students who, when not singing and dancing, become politicized. Iran's entry, Kambozia Partovi's Café Transit / Border Café, deals with the plight of a widow who must eke out a living in a society where women are supposed to bow to patriarchal authority.
At least two films center around gay characters: Lee Jun-ik's Wang-ui namja / King and the Clown (Korea), a phenomenal box office hit in its native country, and Auraeus Solito's Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros / The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (The Philippines), winner of three awards at the Berlin Film Festival. (The Yacoubian Building also has important gay characters, and – rumor has it – Curse of the Golden Flower.)
The Israeli entry, Dror Shaul's Adama Meshuga'at / Sweet Mud, the story of a boy growing up in a kibbutz in the 1970s, was a co-Best Film winner at Israel's Ophir Awards, while Joachim Trier's Reprise (Norway), won the Best Director Award at this year's Karlovy Vary Film Festival. Emanuele Crialese's Nuovomondo / Golden Door, about Italian emigrants leaving for the United States, won six awards at the 2006 Venice Film Festival, including a “Revelation” Silver Lion. (Since the Academy foreign-language film voters tend to like their films to deal with American topics or with little boys, both Sweet Mud and Nuovomondo have a good chance to be shortlisted.)
Also, Mexico's entry, Guillermo del Toro's horror political-fantasy El laberinto del fauno / Pan's Labyrinth, has been getting excellent reviews.
And finally there's the odds-on favorite to win in this category (and quite possibly to get a Best Picture nod), Volver, Pedro Almodóvar's widely acclaimed latest film, and the winner of the Best Screenplay and (ensemble) Best Actress awards at the Cannes Film Festival.
At the last minute, Thailand replaced its original choice, Pen-ek Ratanaruang's murder thriller Invisible Waves, with Kittikorn Liasirikun's outlandish thriller Ahingsa-Jikko mee gam / Ahimsa: Stop to Run, reportedly because Invisible Waves has numerous scenes in languages other than Thai – English among them. If that is indeed true, the Thai film committee may have made an unnecessary change.
And how could the foreign-language submissions be announced without some sort of controversy? Finland submitted Aki Kaurismäki's Laitakaupungin valot / Lights in the Dusk (above), apparently a sort of City Lights seen through a glass, darkly, but the director decided to withdraw it from the competition. According to Variety, Kaurismäki yanked his film because it had been submitted without his approval and “he doesn't like film competitions.” The Academy's press release states that “Foreign Language committee chair Mark Johnson has initiated a dialogue with Kaurismäki in an effort to persuade him to reverse that decision.” (Kaurismäki's opted not to attend the 2003 Academy Awards ceremony – his quirky Mies vailla menneisyyttä / The Man Without a Past had been officially submitted and had surprisingly received a nomination – as a protest against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In fact, the Agence France Presse reports that U.S. foreign policy is still the issue.)
In the weeks to come, the number of submissions will shrink as this film or that country gets booted out because of one technicality or other, though because of Academy rule changes effected earlier this year there should be fewer – if any – instances when a film is deemed ineligible because of language issues.
(Luxembourg's submission, however, Franco de Pena's sex-trade drama Masz na imie Justine / Your Name Is Justine, has apparently been disqualified because much of its dialogue is in English.)
In some cases, films disqualified because of ineligible release dates may try again the following year. Nepal submitted Subash Gajurel's Basain last year, but the film apparently opened too late in 2005 to qualify for that year's Academy Awards. (Foreign-language films must be released in their home country between Oct. 1 of the previous year and Sept. 31 of the current year in order to be eligible.) As a result, Basain is back in Oscar business in 2006.
One unfortunate Academy rule: “Films nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Award shall not be eligible for Academy Award consideration in any category in any subsequent awards year.” In the past, this nonsensical rule didn't exist. Thus, for instance, Jan Troell's Utvandrarna / The Emigrants could be nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category in 1971, and, following the film's release in Los Angeles, show up in other categories – including Best Film – in 1972.
Nominations for the 79th Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, January 23, 2007, at 5:30 a.m. PST in the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.
The Academy Awards ceremony will be held on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2007, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center®. In the United States, the ceremony will be televised live by ABC at 5 p.m. PST, beginning with a half-hour arrival segment.
The 2006 submissions are:
Algeria, “Indigènes / Days of Glory,” Rachid Bouchareb, director;
Argentina, “Derecho de familia / Family Law,” Daniel Burman, director;
Australia, “Ten Canoes,” Rolf de Heer, director;
Austria, “Spiele Leben / You Bet Your Life,” Antonin Svoboda, director;
Bangladesh, “Nirontor / Forever Flows,” Abu Sayeed, director;
Belgium, “Een Ander zijn geluk / Someone Else's Happiness,” Fien Troch, director;
Bolivia, “American Visa,” Juan Carlos Valdivia, director;
Bosnia and Herzegovina, “Grbavica,” Jasmila Zbanic, director;
Brazil, Cinema, Aspirina e Urubus / Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures, Marcelo Gomes, director;
Bulgaria, “Maimuni prez zimata / Monkeys in Winter,” Milena Andonova, director;
Canada, “Water,” Deepa Mehta, director;
Chile, “En la cama / In Bed,” Matias Bize, director;
China, “Curse of the Golden Flower,” Zhang Yimou, director;
Colombia, “Soñar no cuesta nada / A Ton of Luck,” Rodrigo Triana, director;
Croatia, “Libertas,” Veljko Bulajic, director;
Cuba, “El Benny,” Jorge Luis Sanchez, director;
Czech Republic, “Sílení / Lunacy,” Jan Svankmajer, director;
Denmark, “After the Wedding,” Susanne Bier, director;
Egypt, “Omaret yakobean / The Yacoubian Building,” Marwan Hamed, director;
France, “Fauteuils d'orchestre / Avenue Montaigne,” Danièle Thompson, director;
Germany, “Das Leben der Anderen / The Lives of Others,” Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, director;
Greece, “I Horodia tou haritona / Chariton's Choir,” Grigoris Karantinakis, director;
Hong Kong, “Ye yan / The Banquet,” Feng Xiaogang, director;
Hungary, “Fehér tenyér / White Palms,” Szabólcs Hajdu, director;
Iceland, “Börn / Children,” Ragnar Bragason, director;
India, “Rang De Basanti,” Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, director;
Indonesia, “Berbagi suami / Love for Share,” Nia Di Nata, director;
Iran, “Café Transit / Border Café,” Kambozia Partovi, director;
Iraq, “Ahlaam / Dreams,” Mohamed Al-Daradji, director;
Israel, “Adama Meshuga'at / Sweet Mud,” Dror Shaul, director;
Italy, “Nuovomondo / Golden Door,” Emanuele Crialese, director;
Japan, “Hula Gâru / Hula Girls,” Sang-il Lee, director;
Kazakhstan, “Kochevnik / Nomad,” Sergei Bodrov, Talgat Temenov, Ivan Passer, directors;
Korea, “Wang-ui namja / King and the Clown,” Lee Jun-ik, director;
Kyrgyzstan, “Sunduk predkov / The Wedding Chest,” Nurbek Egen, director;
Lebanon, “Bosta,” Philippe Aractingi, director;
Lithuania, “Pries Parskrendant i Zeme / Before Flying Back to Earth,” Arunas Matelis, director;
Macedonia, “Kontakt,” Sergej Stanojkovski, director;
Mexico, “El laberinto del fauno /Pan's Labyrinth,” Guillermo del Toro, director;
Morocco, “La Symphonie marocaine / The Moroccan Symphony,” Kamal Kamal, director;
Nepal, “Basain,” Subash Prasad Gajurel, director;
The Netherlands, “Zwartboek / Black Book,” Paul Verhoeven, director;
Norway, “Reprise,” Joachim Trier, director;
Peru, “Madeinusa,” Claudia Llosa, director;
The Philippines, “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros / The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros,” Auraeus Solito, director;
Poland, “Z Odzysku / Retrieval,” Slawomir Fabicki, director;
Portugal, “Alice,” Marco Martins, director;
Puerto Rico, “Ladrones y mentirosos / Thieves and Liars,” Ricardo Mendez Matta, director;
Romania, “The Way I Spent the End of the World,” Catalin Mitulescu, director;
Russia, “9-ya rota / 9th Company,” Fyodor Bondarchuk, director;
Serbia, “Tomorrow Morning,” Oleg Novkovic, director;
Slovenia, “Odgrobadogroba / Gravehopping,” Jan Cvitkovic, director;
Spain, “Volver,” Pedro Almodóvar, director;
Sweden, “Farval Falkenberg / Falkenberg Farewell,” Jesper Ganslandt, director;
Switzerland, “Vitus,” Fredi M. Murer, director;
Taiwan, “Blue Cha Cha,” Cheng Wen-tang, director;
Thailand, “Ahingsa-Jikko mee gam / Ahimsa Stop to Run,” Leo Kittikorn, director;
Turkey, “Dondurmam gaymak / Ice Cream, I Scream,” Yüksel Aksu, director;
Ukraine, “Aurora,” Oxana Bayrak, director;
Venezuela, “Maroa,” Solveig Hoogesteijn, director;
Vietnam, “Chuyen Cua Pao / Story of Pao,” Ngo Quang Hai, director.