Set in the Indian holy city of Varanasi, the Hindi-language Water is now eligible as a Canadian entry for the foreign-language Oscar because of recent regulation changes enacted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences earlier this year. Prior to the changes, countries could only submit films containing a large chunk of dialogue in one of their official languages. Now, any language is acceptable as long as most of the dialogue is not in English.
Water, about the plight of a group of widows forced into poverty in Varanasi, was nominated for nine Genie Awards – the Canadian Oscars – winning three: Best Actress (Biswas), Best Cinematography (Giles Nuttgens), and Best Original Score (Mychael Danna). Water is the third segment of a film trilogy that began with Earth in 1996, followed by Fire in 1998.
The Indian-born Mehta had to leave India while filming Water because of street riots and death threats. Fundamentalist Hindus were angered by what they perceived as an attack against their religion and customs. Production was halted, but – much to the Indian government's displeasure – was later resumed in Sri Lanka.
Amita Nijhawan places Water, Fundamentalist Hindus, and government and religious hypocrisy in a historical context in the Media/Culture Journal.
'Volver' & 'Ten Canoes': Best Foreign Film Oscar
Pedro Almodóvar's Volver, winner of the Best Screenplay Award and of an ensemble Best Actress Award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, has been chosen as Spain's submission for the 2006 Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.
Volver was up against Agustín Díaz Yanes' swashbuckling historical drama Alatriste, starring Viggo Mortensen, and Manuel Huerga's Salvador, the story of a young Catalonian anarchist and bank robber played by Daniel Brühl.
Almodóvar has already won two Oscars. Todo sobre mi madre / All About My Mother (in which Cruz co-starred) was chosen the Best Foreign Language Film of 1999, and Hable con ella / Talk to Her won him the Best Original Screenplay Award for 2002.
The director, however, has had trouble with Spain's film selection committee. Hable con ella was passed over as Spain's 2002 submission, and so was La Mala educación / Bad Education in 2004. (For the record: In 2002, Fernando León de Aranoa's Los Lunes al sol / Mondays in the Sun, a labor-relations drama starring Javier Bardem, was Spain's submission. It failed to make the cut. In 2004, however, Alejandro Amenábar's Mar adentro /The Sea Inside, the story of a tetraplegic – also Bardem – who fights for his right to die, went on to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.)
Volver, already the film to beat in the foreign-language category, a near sure bet for Best Actress (Cruz) and Best Director, and a likely possibility even in for Best Picture (a rarity for a non-English-language film), opens in the United States on November 3.
The Australian Film Commission (AFC) has announced that Rolf de Heer' and Peter Djigirr's Ten Canoes, filmed in the indigenous language of Ganalbingu, has been selected as Australia's official entry for the 2006 Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.
Set in the distant past, Ten Canoes tells the story of a young man who is attracted to one of his older brother's wives. The film, Australia's first indigenous-language production, stars Jamie Gulpilil, Richard Birrinbirrin, Frances Djulibing, and it is narrated by David Gulpilil.
Ten Canoes won the Special Jury Prize of the “Un Certain Regard” sidebar at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and will be screened at the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival.
Surprisingly, Jens Liens Den Brysomme mannen / The Bothersome Man, one of the best-received Norwegian films in recent years and the winner of the Best Director and Best Screenplay Amandas Norways top film awards was passed over as that country's submission for the 2006 Best Foreign-Language Film Academy Award. Instead, Joachim Triers feature-film début , Reprise, has been chosen as Norway's entry. Reprise, the story of two writer wannabes only one of whom becomes successful won the Best Director Award at this years Karlovy Vary Film Festival. (More on Reprise.)
Sweden's entry is Jesper Ganslandt's feature-film début, Farväl Falkenberg / Falkenberg Farewell, a coming-of-age tale about five friends who spend their last summer together in the small town of Falkenberg.
Denmark will be represented by Susanne Bier's Efter brylluppet / After the Wedding, a psychological drama about a dying man who believes he knows the right person to take his soon-to-be vacant place at home.
Rang De Basanti, a song-and-dance political epic about seven college students who go up in arms against the system, is India's entry for the 2007 Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and starring superstar Aamir Khan (the rebellious hero in the Oscar-nominated Lagaan), Rang De Basanti – which literally translates as “Color Me Yellow” – has become one of Bollywood's biggest blockbusters of the year.
Egypt's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar 2007 entry is director Marwan Hamed and screenwriter Wahid Hamid's The Yacoubian Building, a controversial adaptation of Alaa' Al-Aswany's equally controversial novel that created a stir upon its publication in that country. Egyptian nationalists and Fundamentalist Muslims were offended by both the film's and the novel's depiction of social and government corruption, and of different manifestations of human sexuality within the walls of an iconic Cairo building.
At least one Egyptian politician wanted The Yacoubian Building banned, while tenants at the real Yacoubian Building refused to allow shooting on the property, claiming the film portrayed them “as indecent people.” According to the newspaper Al Bawaba, The Yacoubian Building was selected as Egypt's entry “because it truly reflects Egyptian life.”
The Netherlands' 'Black Book,' South Korea's 'The King and the Clown,' Poland's 'Retrieval'
Paul Verhoeven's underground thriller Black Book / Zwartboek is the Netherlands' Oscar 2007 submission. Set in the fall of 1944, Black Book portrays the relationship between a young Jewish woman (Carice van Houten) and a high-ranking Gestapo officer (The Lives of Others' Sebastian Koch) while she seeks revenge for the murder of her family. Inspired by real-life events, the screenplay was written by Verhoeven and Gerard Soeteman.
South Korea's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar submission is The King and the Clown / Wang-ui namja, the story of a 16th-century (male) clown (Lee Jun-gi) caught between the affections of a despotic king (Jin-yeong Jeong) and a fellow performer (Kam Woo-seong), while arousing the jealousy of the king's consort (Gang Seong-yeon). Directed by Jun-ik Lee and written by Seok-Hwan Choi (from Tae-woong Kim's play), The King and the Clown was a phenomenal box office hit in its native country, becoming South Korea's second biggest ticket-seller ever.
Writer-director Adolfo Alix Jr.'s drama Donsol has been chosen as the Philippines' entry in the best foreign-language film category for the 80th Academy Awards. Veteran film director Eddie Romero headed the selection committee.
Set in the fishing town of Donsol, known as a good spot for whale shark-watching, the plot revolves around the relationship that develops between a disillusioned “whale shark interaction officer” (Sid Lucero) and an older woman (Angel Aquino) fighting breast cancer.
Donsol has won several awards in the festival circuit, including the Spirit of the Independent Award at the Ft. Lauderdale Film Festival and a best actress trophy for Angel Aquino at the Philippines' Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.
And finally, Slawomir Fabicki's Retrieval / Z Odzysku, the story of an unemployed amateur boxer who becomes a gangster's henchman, has been chosen as Poland's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar 2007 entry.
Aamir Khan Rang De Basanti photo: ROMP / UTV Motion Pictures.