The race for Best Foreign Language Film is as heated as it’s ever been this year. Movies from countries like Ukraine, Sweden, Canada, Turkey, France and Italy are in a heated race for the gold, but only a single film will emerge as the winner. Having covered more than 5 major film festivals this year I’ve had the chance to see most of the big contenders vying for the top prize. The quality this year has been unprecedented, so has the fact that now, more than ever, there are more ways than one to catch up with these fantastic films.
I’ve narrowed it down to eight films that have made their mark on the festival circuit and in theatres that stand a big chance for a nomination. Unsurprisingly, the majority of these had their debuts at Cannes and kept the momentum throughout the year. Of course, like any other year, there is a chance that some dark horses will emerge and trump the big boys, but for now this is how the race is looking. Take not that this is one of the most unpredictable categories and that in years best it was very difficult to correctly predict all five of the nominees.
Of note, I’m still dumbfounded by Ukraine’s decision to submit “The Guide” instead of Myroslav Slaboshpytski’s harrowing “The Tribe”, a film in total sign language and without subtitles that hits you like nothing else that’s come before it. It’s a brilliant film that is already a contender for my 2015 ten best list.
“Wild Tales” is one hell of an original vision, which is not surprising considering it has been compared to early Tarantino because of its inventive narrative. This is a film that hits you hard, and then even harder, and then even harder, until you are left gasping for air when its final frame hits the screen. I guess you can tell I liked it. In fact, director Damian Szifron’s film has been sneaking into every single major film festival with very little word of mouth to go along with it, but the buzz is finally building and people are finally noticing what an incredible film it really is. You’ll be hearing a lot of comparisons to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and those comparisons wouldn’t be far off, as the film is composed of six standalone short stories that have a common theme of violence and vengeance.
Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy” is already breaking box office records in Quebec and will most certainly become Dolan’s highest grossing movie in the U.S. when it finally gets released early next year. It is then no surprise that his next movie will be his first shot in English and will star the incomparably talented Jessica Chastain. “Mommy” is a terrific movie that features mother and son constantly, maddeningly talking over each other, verbal fireworks that bring a rawness to a breathtakingly original movie shot in an absurdly squared 1:1 aspect ratio; there’s a scene midway that brilliantly explains why he decided to shoot his film that way. Dolan’s film might be overlong but his
ambitious vision more than makes up for it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins it all come Oscar night.
Two Cannes favorites will also be duking it out for the top prize: Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme d’or winner “Winter Sleep” and Andrei Zviaguintsev’s “Leviathan”. “Winter Sleep” stands no chance to win, but has enough fans to maybe, just maybe, squeak in as one of the five nominees. It’s a frustrating but rewarding film that is also the talkiest film I’ve ever seen, even more so than Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage”. It’s a mediation on violence, friendship, and family among other things, but more importantly is a film filled with beautiful landscapes and moments of sheer brilliance contrasted with a few moments of sheer boredom. I was a big fan of “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”, so much so that it made my ten best list in 2012, but “Winter’s Sleep” doesn’t reach those heights nor does it really want to.
“Leviathan” is an incredible moviegoing experience that was – surprisingly! – chosen by Russia as its Foreign Language submission, despite the fact that the film is a downright critique of the scorned society the Putin regime has molded over the past decade in the motherland. A Russian man recruits his lawyer friend to sue a corrupt mayor who’s attempting to seize his house for demolishment. This corrupt mayor is the quintessential portrait of a Russia that its director Zviaguintsev isn’t proud of being part of, and it’s is no surprise the 50 year-old director now resides in Toronto, far away from his native country’s harsh realities. Many thought “Leviathan” deserved the big prize at Cannes this past May, which would only be fitting if it beats out “Winter’s Sleep” for a nomination.
If you haven’t heard of Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Ida”, you better get used to the name. It will most likely be on a ton of year end top ten lists and is a sure-bet for a Foreign Language nomination. Its subtle, holocaust themed narrative is a definite draw, but so is the brilliant black and white photography by Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal and the impeccable performances by Agata Kulesza and Agata Trebuchowska. The harrowingly quiet narrative draws you into its story filled with dark secrets and even darker truths, as an orphan brought up in a nun covenant meets a long lost aunt who tells her the story of her Jewish heritage and the dark past nobody wanted her to know about.
Two Days, One Night
My next write-up for AD will most likely be my fascinating interview with the Dardennes brothers back in September at the Toronto Film Festival. I had just seen what I thought was the best movie of their career and one of the very best movies I’ve seen about the economy crisis. It was a blast talking to them about the film, Cotillard and what they thought was the best film of 2014. Here’s a hint: It’s a Linklater. Marion Cotillard is mesmerizing in her role as Sandra, a young Belgian mother who discovers her co-workers were pressured to choose between getting a significant pay bonus and having her keep her job. The way Cotillard approaches each and every co-worker, pleading — sometimes even begging — for them to change their vote is heartbreaking. It’s a movie that once again places the talented directing duo as one of the very best filmmakers in the world. A nomination for this movie seems a no-brainer at this point and I call Cotillard as a dark horse for a nomination in the Best Actress category.
Just released this past Friday was Ruben Ostlund’s sometimes frustrating but immersively brilliant “Force Majeure”, a film that would play tremendously well in a double bill with “Gone Girl”. Both films tackle a “modern-day marriage” in fresh and inventive ways. Where Fincher’s film is a sly, devilish portrait of the modern day “cool girl”, Ostlund’s film is about the male ego and manhood in general.
A husband, his wife and their two kids vacation in the French Alps. On the first day they ski, dine, take “happy” pictures and nap together in bed. The scenery is picturesque and so is this – it seems – wealthy family. Everything changes on the second day. A moment happens that triggers the family’s trust towards the patriarchal figure. The husband is caught in a “fight or flight” moment and in a quick flash his role in the family is questioned.
The questions “Force Majeure” asks are tough and not easy to answer. What exactly is “manhood”? Are we a society caught up in gender stereotypes? Are our illusions of security and responsibility skewed, flawed? It’s a movie that sparks conversation but also asks us to look in the mirror and question everything we thought we knew about ourselves. In a brilliant third act, Ostlund pulls the rug under us and shows us the hypocrisy and lunacy of it all. This is a major contender.
I’ve sadly not seen Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu” but it seems to have had a real impact on festival audiences since its showing at Cannes last summer. I’ve only heard positive things about it and look forward to finally catching up with it. It’s a film that looks at the impact and consequences that happen after Timbuktu gets briefly occupied by Islamic militants.
So there you have it, eight films that were some of the hottest tickets of 2014 at film fests. As I mentioned before, there were tons of films that were sadly not submitted by their country that really deserved a shot at the gold. The already mentioned “The Tribe”, Lukas Moodysson’s “We Are the Best” (Sweden) , Mia Hansen-Love’s “Eden” (France), Asia Argento’s “Incompresa” (Italy) and Canada’s “Felix et Meira” among others.