Abortion movie omission is biggest surprise among Best Foreign Language Film Oscar semifinalists
The Academy Awards' Best Foreign Language Film category is one of the most difficult to predict, chiefly because a much smaller (and, based on anecdotal evidence, older) segment of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters get to watch the potential contenders – for the most part movies yet to be released in the United States. For that reason, major surprises are commonplace. After all, what's well-regarded around the world may not be all that well-regarded among 85-year-old Beverly Hills residents. And for that reason, no one should be surprised that a trio of 2007 favorites – the abortion movie, the Iranian Revolution movie, and the ghostly children movie – are all already out of the running.
Nowhere to be found on the Academy Awards' list of nine Best Foreign Language Film semifinalists (see list further below) are the following:
- Cristian Mungiu's abortion movie 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days /4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile, last year's Cannes Film Festival winner and considered by numerous U.S. critics one of the best films of 2007.
- Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud's Iranian Revolution movie Persepolis, the New York Film Critics Circle's Best Animated Feature. (There's still Oscar hope for Persepolis in that particular category.)
- J.A. Bayona's ghostly children movie The Orphanage / El Orfanato, a well-received box office hit and multiple-Goya Award nominee.
Ineffectual 'big strides'
In reference to this year's omission of Cristian Mungiu's Palme d'Or-winning abortion movie – and perhaps while ignoring last year's omission of Pedro Almodóvar's family comedy-drama Volver – the Academy's Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee Chair Mark Johnson told the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas, “I thought we had made big strides last year, but apparently not big enough.”
More specifically, Johnson was calling attention to the current two-phase Best Foreign Language Film nominating process (see further below) – which, ironically, has made the votes in this category even less representative of the Academy as a whole, as only about 30 of its nearly 6,000 members end up choosing the eventual nominees.
“Asked if further retooling (including the possible involvement of more active Academy members earlier in the nominating process) may lie in the future, Johnson was unambiguous,” Foundas writes. “'That's what has to be done, because in my mind it can't continue like this,' he said. 'I don't believe these choices reflect the Academy at large.'”
Best Foreign Language Film Oscar semifinalists
In case Mark Johnson was talking about this year's semifinalists – if Mungiu's abortion movie had been allowed in, one of the Oscar-friendlier movies below would have been left out – among the choices that may not reflect the Academy at large are the following, in alphabetical order by country (and with a brief synopsis).
- Austria, The Counterfeiters / Die Fälscher, dir.: Stefan Ruzowitzky.
Nazis have a Jewish concentration camp inmate (Karl Markovics) make counterfeit U.S. dollars and British pounds so as to weaken their enemies' economies.
- Brazil, The Year My Parents Went on Vacation / O Ano em Que Meus Pais Saíram de Férias, dir.: Cao Hamburger.
In 1970, at the height of Brazil's right-wing military dictatorship, a boy (Michel Joelsas) is left alone in São Paulo's Jewish neighborhood after his parents “go away on vacation.”
- Canada, Days of Darkness / L'âge des ténèbres, dir.: Denys Arcand.
A civil servant (Marc Labrèche) finds an escape from his drab existence by coming up with all types of Walter Mitty-like fantasies.
- Israel, Beaufort, dir.: Joseph Cedar.
At the dawn of the 21st century, Israeli platoon leaves their country's last outpost in South Lebanon as that war is about to come to an end.
- Italy, The Unknown Woman / La sconosciuta, dir.: Giuseppe Tornatore.
In this David di Donatello winner, the violent past of a Ukrainian prostitute-turned-nanny (Kseniya Rappoport) resurfaces, terrorizing the wealthy Italian family for whom she works.
- Kazakhstan, Mongol, dir.: Sergei Bodrov.
The early life of Genghis Khan (Tadanobu Asano), back in the days when he was known as Temudjin.
- Poland, Katyn, dir.: Andrzej Wajda.
Poles are slaughtered by the Russian Red Army, which then blames the Nazis.
- Russia, 12, dir.: Nikita Mikhalkov.
In this latest adaptation of Reginald Rose's 1954 teleplay Twelve Angry Men, 12 Russian jurors must decide the fate of a Chechen teenager charged with murdering his stepfather. Sidney Lumet directed Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb in the Oscar-nominated 1957 version.
- Serbia, The Trap / Klopka, dir.: Srdan Golubovic.
A father (Nebojsa Glogovac) turns to crime in order to save the life of his young son (Marko Durovic).
How Kazakh is 'Mongol'?
In addition to the mind-boggling omission of Cristian Mungiu's abortion movie from the list of Best Foreign Language Film Oscar semifinalists, there was one perhaps even more mind-boggling inclusion: Sergei Bodrov's Mongol.
Is the movie that bad?
No, this has nothing to do with Mongol's merits or lack thereof. The issue here is that Bodrov's epic tracing the early life of Genghis Khan is listed as a Kazakhstan entry.
So, how Kazakh is Mongol?
For starters, this mostly Russian-German co-production (with some Kazakh participation) was mostly shot in China and features dialogue in Mongolian and Mandarin.
It was directed, co-written, and co-produced by Bodrov, a Russian national and U.S. resident. Also hailing from Russia are co-producers Sergei Selyanov and Anton Melnik, co-screenwriter Arif Aliev, co-cinematographer Sergey Trofimov, and production designer Dashi Namdakov.
There's more non-Kazakh talent: co-cinematographer Rogier Stoffers is Dutch, co-editor Valdís Óskarsdóttir is Icelandic, co-editor Zach Staenberg is Hollywoodian (The Matrix), composer Tuomas Kantelinen is Finnish, and so on.
What about the in-front-of-the-camera talent?
In the Mongol cast: Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano as Temudjin (later internationally known as Genghis Khan), Chinese actor Sun Honglei, Mongolian actress Khulan Chuluun, and Russian/Altaic actor Amadu Mamadakov.
Admittedly, some of Mongol's supporting cast may hail from Kazakhstan. Or at the very least may have spent summers there.
Of note, late last year the Academy disqualified Taiwan's entry Lust Caution because Ang Lee was the only Taiwanese national with a key role in the production of the Golden Lion-winning period political drama.
And back in early 1993, Adolfo Aristarain's A Place in the World was actually disqualified after being nominated, as the Uruguayan entry turned out to be very much Argentinean.
Nazis & little boys + Jewish characters & themes
The other Best Foreign Language Film semifinalists were more predictable, what with World War II/Nazis (The Counterfeiters, Katyn), little boys (The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, The Trap), and Jewish characters/themes (Beaufort, plus a double whammy for The Year My Parents Went on Vacation & The Counterfeiters).
In addition to movies directed by Best Foreign Language Film category favorites (nominees/winners in parentheses):
- Days of Darkness, dir.: Denys Arcand (The Decline of the American Empire, 1986; Jesus of Montreal, 1989; The Barbarian Invasions, 2003 winner).
- The Unknown Woman, dir.: Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso, 1989 winner; The Star Maker, 1995).
- 12, dir.: Nikita Mikhalkov (Close to Eden, 1992; Burnt by the Sun, 1994 winner).
- Plus the already mentioned Katyn, dir.: Andrzej Wajda (The Promised Land, 1975; The Maids of Wilko, 1979; Man of Iron, 1981).
Two-phase Best Foreign Language Film Oscar voting
As was the case last year, the 2008 Best Foreign Language Film nominations are being determined in two phases. (Not that this will in any way help Mungiu's Oscar-unfriendly abortion movie.)
According to the Academy's press release, the Phase I committee, “consisting of several hundred Los Angeles-based members,” screened 63 eligible non-English-language films. Their votes narrowed down the field to the nine movies listed above.
Left unsaid in the release is that those “several hundred” members don't have to view all 63 potential Academy Award contenders. They only need to watch a certain percentage of the 20–30 films assigned to their particular screening group.
The Phase II committee is made up of ten randomly selected members from the Los Angeles-based Phase I group, joined by ten New York City and L.A.-based members invited just for the occasion. These 30 members will watch the nine semifinalists and then select the five nominees.
And that's how Pedro Almodóvar's shoo-in Volver failed to make the cut last year.
This year's Phase II screenings will take place from Friday, Jan. 18, through Sunday, Jan. 20, in both Hollywood and New York City.
Nominations for the 2008 Academy Awards will be announced on Jan. 22 at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. Unless the Writers Guild strike derails things (see Golden Globes 2008), the Academy Awards ceremony will be held on Sunday, Feb. 24, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Los Angeles.
Note: Since 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days opened in the Los Angeles area last Dec. 21, Mungiu's abortion movie is eligible in the Academy Awards' other categories, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website.
Image of Anamaria Marinca in Cristian Mungiu's abortion movie 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days: BAC Films.
Tadanobu Asano and Khulan Chuluun Mongol image: Picturehouse / Universal Pictures.
Pawel Malaszynski Katyn image: ITI Cinema.
“Abortion Movie Omission Is Best Foreign Language Film Oscar Most Mind-Boggling Upset” last updated in September 2018.