Multicultural movies & the Oscars
Nearly ten years ago, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences changed a key rule regarding entries for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar;* since then, things have gotten quite colorful. Just yesterday, Sept. 16, Ireland submitted Paddy Breathnach’s Viva – a Cuban-set drama spoken in Spanish. And why not?
To name a couple more “multicultural and multinational” entries this year alone: China’s submission, with dialogue in Mandarin and Mongolian, is Wolf Totem, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud – a Frenchman. And Germany’s entry, Labyrinth of Lies, was directed by Giulio Ricciarelli, who happens to be a German-based, Italian-born stage and TV actor.
Viva: Sexual identity in 21st-century Cuba
Executive produced by Best Supporting Actor Academy Award winner Benicio Del Toro (Traffic), Viva tells the story of an 18-year-old Havana drag-club worker, Jesus (Héctor Medina), who dreams of becoming a drag performer. Things become a bit more complicated after his father, macho former boxer Angel (Jorge Perugorría), is released after 15 years in jail. Mark O’Halloran wrote the Viva screenplay.
As an aside, veteran Jorge Perugorría starred in Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío’s gay-themed Strawberry and Chocolate (1993), the first – and to date only – Cuban film to be shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (in early 1995).
Wolf Totem: China’s Jean-Jacques Annaud ban lifted
Reportedly a bowdlerized adaptation of Lu Jiamin’s semi-autobiographical novel set in the late 1960s, the $40 million-budgeted Wolf Totem / Le dernier loup – reminiscent of Carroll Ballard’s Never Cry Wolf – revolves around a Chinese student (Feng Shaofeng a.k.a. William Feng) sent to China’s Inner Mongolia region as a teacher to the local shepherds.
As to be expected, the teacher becomes a student of local customs, learning about the bond between the shepherds and the area’s wolf population, in danger as a result of the country’s multi-tentacled government apparatus, which, much like U.S. agribusinesses and their political cronies, sees wolves as pests.
Jean-Jacques Annaud, whose Seven Years in Tibet remains banned in China, had his own personal ban lifted so he could direct Wolf Totem. A box office hit in China, where it opened in Feb. 2015, the film has grossed $122.7 million. A 1997 release based on Heinrich Harrer’s book, the English-language Seven Years in Tibet stars Brad Pitt (as Harrer) and David Thewlis.
Labyrinth of Lies: Corruption German style
Giulio Ricciarelli’s Labyrinth of Lies / Im Labyrinth des Schweigens features a World War II / Jewish holocaust theme, which, whether directly or indirectly, has always been a favorite among the Academy’s Best Foreign Language Film voters – e.g., The Devil Strikes at Night, The Shop on Main Street, Closely Watched Trains, The Garden of the Finzi Continis, Madame Rosa, The Tin Drum, Mephisto, The Assault, Life Is Beautiful, and this year’s winner Ida.
In Labyrinth of Lies, young, idealistic public prosecutor Johann Radmann (German Film Award nominee Alexander Fehling) is eager to bring high-ranking Nazis to justice, but his efforts are thwarted by corruption within the German political system. Revelations about his own family (á la Francis Lederer in The Man I Married, but the other way around) make things even more difficult for the beleaguered Radmann.
Director Ricciarelli co-wrote with Elisabeth Bartel the German Film Award-nominated Labyrinth of Lies screenplay.
For the record, this year’s Best Picture German Film Award winner was Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria, about a young woman (Laia Costa), her three male “friends,” and a wild night out that leads to a bank robbery.
Disqualified films due to language, national barriers
* Throughout the years, among the films disqualified by the Academy because of arcane eligibility rules relating to language and/or nationality were Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Red (1994), a Swiss submission directed and written by Polish talent; Saverio Costanzo’s Private (2004) an Italian drama set in Palestine and featuring Hebrew and Arabic dialogue; and Michael Haneke’s thriller Hidden (2005), Austria’s submission set in Paris and starring French speakers Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, and Annie Girardot.
Oscar 2016: Best Foreign Language Film entries
Below is the current list of entries for the 2016 Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. The Academy will continue to accept submissions up to Oct. 1.
Austria: Goodnight Mommy, Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz.
Bosnia & Herzegovina: Our Everyday Life, Ines Tanovic.
Brazil: The Second Mother, Anna Muylaert.
Bulgaria: The Judgement, Stephan Komandarev.
Chile: The Club, Pablo Larraín.
China: Wolf Totem, Jean-Jacques Annaud.
Colombia: Embrace of the Serpent, Ciro Guerra.
Croatia: The High Sun, Dalibor Matanic.
Dominican Republic: Sand Dollars, Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas.
Estonia: 1944, Elmo Nüganen.
Finland: The Fencer, Klaus Härö.
Georgia: Moira, Levan Tutberidze.
Germany: Labyrinth of Lies, Giulio Ricciarelli.
Greece: Xenia, Panos H. Koutras.
Guatemala: Ixcanul Volcano, Jayro Bustamante.
Hungary: Son of Saul, László Nemes.
Iceland: Rams, Grímur Hákonarson.
Iraq: Memories on Stone, Shawkat Amin Korki.
Ireland: Viva, Paddy Breathnach.
Japan: 100 Yen Love, Masaharu Take.
Jordan: Theeb, Naji Abu Nowar.
Kazakhstan: Stranger, Ermek Tursunov.
Kosovo: Babai, Visar Morina.
Lithuania: The Summer of Sangaile, Alante Kavaite.
Luxembourg: Baby(a)lone, Donato Rotunno.
Macedonia: Honey Night, Ivo Trajkov.
Nepal: Talakjung vs Tulke, Nischal Basnet.
Netherlands: The Paradise Suite, Joost van Ginkel.
Norway: The Wave, Roar Uthaug.
Pakistan: Moor, Jami.
Palestine: The Wanted 18, Paul Cowan and Amer Shomali.
Panama: Box 25, Mercedes Arias and Delfina Vidal.
Paraguay: Cloudy Times, Arami Ullon.
Peru: NN, Héctor Gálvez.
Portugal: Arabian Nights: Vol 2, Miguel Gomes.
Romania: Aferim!, Radu Jude.
Serbia: Enclave, Goran Radovanovic.
Slovenia: The Tree, Sonja Prosenc.
South Korea: The Throne, Lee Joon-ik.
Sweden: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, Roy Andersson.
Switzerland: Iraqi Odyssey, Samir.
Taiwan: The Assassin, Hou Hsiao-Hsien.
Turkey: Sivas, Kaan Mujdeci.
Venezuela: Gone with the River, Mario Crespo.
Image of Héctor Medina in Oscar 2016 Best Foreign Language Film entry Viva: Treasure Entertainment.
Image of Alexander Fehling in Oscar 2016 Best Foreign Language Film entry Labyrinth of Lies: Claussen Wöbke Putz Filmproduktion / Naked Eye Filmproduktion.
Image of Feng Shaofeng in Oscar 2016 Best Foreign Language Film entry Wolf Totem: China Film.