By Yash Thakur. Posted on December 05, 2015
The Oscar season is (almost) upon us. The long lists for animated short films & documentaries are already out & in another 10 days the Academy will release their list of the 9 foreign-language films (that will eventually be shortlisted to final 5) to compete for the Oscars next year. Indian films haven't really had a very good history at the Oscars. In fact, only four Indian films have been nominated in the top five in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars so far -Salaam Bombay, Lagaan, Water and Mother India. However, this years Indian submission, the groundbreaking Court, has managed to dazzle not only Indian viewers but critics' and audiences worldwide.
Winner of top prizes at the Venice and Mumbai film festivals, Chaitanya Tamhane's Court is a quiet, devastating and an absurdist portrait of injustice, caste prejudice, and venal politics in contemporary India. An elderly folk singer and grassroots organizer is arrested on a trumped-up charge of inciting a sewage worker to commit suicide. What follows is a kafkaesque portrayal of the Indian justice system with a third person observation of characters that are closest to the trial of the folk singer. Featuring a cast and crew of newcomers, (including the producer and the director) the film has won over 25 international awards at top festivals and also won this year's National Award for the Best Film.
As far as Oscar submissions go, countries can try one of the two approaches. They can either send a film that they believe should represent their country & is the best work of cinema that year, or they can send a film that they think will cater to the sensibilities of the Academy members & get through as far as possible in the race. India doesn’t seem to follow any logically consistent method, but this year it seems, we’ve gone ahead with the first approach. Court is, by far, one of the most dazzling works of cinema to have come out of India in a long time & deserved to be nominated. Having said that, the Academy is known to have a certain sensibility and going by their track record, the chances of Court winning or even qualifying for the shortlist seem dim.
Having said that, there is a good chance that the film will make it to the long-list of 9 films. But even that will be tough. Especially, given the rich pool of films that have been nominated this year by the 81 countries in the fray.
Last year, a record 83 countries submitted features and the eventual winner was Polish feature Ida, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. In this piece, we take a look at the top contenders in the race this year.
Hungary's Son of Saul, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes, definitely seems like the film to beat this year. László Nemes' (a longtime assistant to Bela Tarr) film, a searing drama, where a concentration camp inmate/worker discovers the body of his young son, and must choose between participating in the uprising being planned among the prisoners, or securing a proper Jewish burial for his child. The film will likely also be aiming to clinch awards in other categories (picture, director and screenplay are not out of the question).
Critically acclaimed across the world, Son Of Saul had been rated five out of five stars by The Guardian, calling it an "astonishing debut film" and "a horror movie of extraordinary focus and courage".
Though set in Turkey, shot in Turkish, and telling a Turkish story about the demonization of female sexuality, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s beautifully mounted debut, Mustang, has an unmistakable West European sensibility. The film is set in a remote Turkish village near the Black Sea and depicts the lives of five young orphaned sisters and showcases the challenges they face growing up as girls in a conservative society. Mustang has a brilliant, unknown cast of young women, and the fine direction highlights how they have been to forced to suppress their growing sensuality. The film has won over 12 awards, including the Golden Duke at the Odessa International Film Festival.
Very different from his previous film, No, yet not so different from his earlier works, Post Mortem and Tony Manero, Pablo Larrain's The Club is a brilliantly acted chamber drama, which is a profound allegory of the abuses of the Catholic Church. The film follows a group of exiled priests (four men and one woman) who are serving out a unique form of spiritual punishment in The Club. Pablo's fifth feature is an intense drama highlighting the scandal-plagued priests of Chile and the Vatican.
This is the third in what Roy Andersson's trilogy on the human condition, the previous works being You, the Living (2007) and Songs from the Second Floor (2000). The Swedish director shows us what "being a human being" means, with this meticulously crafted, dreamlike black comedy. Sam and Jonathan, a pair of hapless novelty salesmen, take us on a constantly changing tour of the human condition, equal parts reality and fantasy, unfolding in absurdist episodes. As the Guardian says, "A Pigeon Sat on A Branch Reflecting on Existence is a succession of hallucinatory pictures, each depicting a world of Beckettian loneliness and hyperreal drabness". The film also won the Golden Lion award at the Venice International Film Festival last year.
Turkish director Kaan Mujdeci's debut feature Sivas is a gritty picture about a boy and his dog, that paints a severe picture of a country kid who doesn't yet know the difference between being right and just wanting to have his way. Set in the brutal world of illegal dog fighting in rural eastern Anatolia, Sivas is a strikingly photographed, sparse tale of a problematic boy & his brawny Kangal dog. Sivas went on to surprise everyone, entering the competition slot and winning the Special Jury Prize at the 71st Venice International Film Festival.
Grímur Hákonarson and his Rams came into the spotlight after winning the Un Certain Regard Award at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Rams is a humanist drama about two estranged brothers in an Icelandic village who come together after decades of bitterness to save their sheep. Hákonarson, who is an experienced documentarian, uses his extensive knowledge of Iceland & the unique landscapes of his homeland, while adding wry, comic moments to this tale of sheep and men.
With their second feature after In 80 Days (2010), Jose Mari Goenaga and Jon Garano create a melancholic story around a bunch of flowers. Loreak (Flowers is the U.S. title) is an emotionally precise, subtle and poignant exploration of the romance and remembrance that they evoke when one passes away or goes far away. If anything, the film is one of the best Basque language films ever made, not that there are many that one gets to see anyways. Structured like a thriller, Loreak follows Ane, whose life turns around when, week after week, she receives a bunch of flowers at home. Always at the same time and always without a senders' note. It was nominated for the Best Film at the Goya Awards this year.
Directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, Goodnight Mommy is a 'nerve-shredding' thriller from Austria. Dark, violent and drenched in dread, the story observes two twins, who do everything together from collecting beetles to feeding stray cats and their mother, who comes home after her reconstructive surgery. But with her face wrapped in bandages, and her demeanor distant, they grow suspicious of her identity. As the tension between the mother and the sons grow, the film seemingly becomes harder to process.