FOREIGN LANGUAGE

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The Second Mother is easily one of the best films I’ve seen this year. It’s deeply satisfyingly to see a story so deceptively simple unfold with such thoughtful and thought provoking resonance. Two channels to the left of The Second Mother and you arrive at Pedro Almodovar. Two channels to the right and you arrive at Ingmar Bergman. Hovering somewhere between Almodovar and Bergman is Anna Muylaert who approaches a story rife with agonizingly awkward situations in a film where her characters are allowed to change in unpredictable ways. It’s easy to see the film as a study of class issues. On another level it’s a tangled soap opera where the dramatic plot twists keep you on the edge of your seat as you wait for the emotional payoff. It might be a little of both. But neither of those angles quite captures the total emotional effect because the sum of its parts add up to far more. The most remarkable thing we take away from this film are the sensations that linger in our conscious and unconscious thoughts, the unintended aftershocks of a work of genius.

The Second Mother revolves around a housekeeper and nanny, Val (a superb Regina Casé), whose own daughter was left behind when she went to work for a wealthy family. She has raised their young son, Fabinho; and years later when he’s a teenager, he still seeks her bosom for comfort and her soothing voice for reassurance, much to his birth mother’s horror. It’s okay, though, because a nanny is a nanny and can never take the place of a mother. This is how a mother must rationalize the irrational jealousy that no doubt springs forth when a child grows up relating more to his nanny than his own mother. The family dynamic could probably maintain its balance indefinitely were it not for the catalyst of Val’s daughter arriving to disturb the balance.

Because Val behaves like a servant is supposed to, because she is casually ordered around and made to sleep in a tiny, stuffy, hot room which might as well be a walk-in closet, it might not feel as wrong as it all is. The daughter’s presence illuminates that wrongness because she, unlike her mother, refuses to behave like a servant or a lesser person in the presence of her mother’s employers. Eat this ice cream, sit in that chair, don’t go in the swimming pool, do not eat with the family, stay in the kitchen during meals. These mutually agreed upon rules are how things are conducted in wealthy homes but this story is told from the point of view of the underlings.

The film is directed to emphasize the viewpoint of the servants. We watch Val listen to the family discuss serious matters. We see the family through narrow openings in half-closed doors. It’s part of Val’s job to remain efficiently unobtrusive, and she is good at it — so good at it that she forgets who she is and what really matters. In that way, The Second Mother is a kind of coming-of-middle-age story where a woman evolves past one phase of her life and opens another.

Val’s daughter Jessica (Camila Márdila) responds with distant bemusement to the people who keep her mother in their employ. It is absurd, she thinks, to see her mother being ordered around – “clear the table, Val.” “Serve lunch, Val.” The employers are unaccustomed to having this much light cast on the complications of this kind of sticky hierarchy. As consequence, the mother wants Jessica gone, while the father is enamored.

The beauty of The Second Mother is that it so gets what motherhood is all about. It gets the primal urge of nurturers to feel needed and to give of themselves in ways others won’t. This isn’t a biological connection and a mother does not even have to be a woman — but mothers know themselves, they know what compels them to take care of those they dearly love. It is a strong impulse, an irreplaceable one. Yet, this film is also about the needs of women to escape the confines of that role to explore, perhaps, other ways of living — like studying to become an architect, or leaving your child behind in order to work hard to be sure there is enough money for your child to have proper clothes and education. The intricate layers here are profound, if you know where to look and if you’re paying close enough attention.

There is also a hidden layer, a daring and comical layer, f the kind of sensual, intimate relationship that has developed between this “nanny” and her surrogate son. Though he’s almost a grown man she strokes his hair lovingly, he sleeps in her bed with her when he is restless. He loves her almost passionately and yet it never tips over into a sexual relationship. It isn’t supposed to. It is meant to show that this woman formed such a close bond with the kid she helped raise that no one would ever think of her as anything but the second mother.

Too many will watch this film and see only its surface. It will look like a class struggle, or perhaps a sympathetic portrait of a hard suffering woman. What I see when I watch this film is the kind of story we just don’t see here in the states — not about women, not about people, not about life.

The Second Mother is a quiet standout but a standout nonetheless. If the writer/director of The Second Mother – Anna Muylaert – had been born a man he probably would be getting invites to direct much bigger Hollywood movies than I’m gonna bet are being thrown Muylaert’s way as we speak. They should. They should invest in this kind of talent and focused storytelling. Brazil’s Foreign Language frontrunner should leap to the front of the line for Oscar consideration. As always, it will be a highly competitive year, with films like Son of Saul, Dheepan and Labyrinth of Lies. Already The Second Mother is earning rave reviews as one of the unexpected gifts of the season.

victoria

No “invisible”(?) edits here. As Paddy Mullholland says at ScreenOnScreen, Victoria is “a 140-minute action film literally shot in one take. No wonder it won an award at Berlin for its cinematography” (by Sturla Brandth Grøvlen). Not only that, at the Berlinale in February, director Sebastian Schipper took home the Prize of the Guild of German Art House Cinemas and the Reader Jury Prize. Victoria was then nominated for 7 German Film Awards and just last month won 6 of them: Best Feature, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Score and Best Cinematography. “A runaway party girl is asked by three friendly men to join them as they hit the town. Their wild night of partying turns into a bank robbery.” Naturally. Non-stop single-take thrills ensue.

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The Academy’s Facebook page recently posted a behind the scenes video of the 1990 Oscar ceremony, produced by the late Gil Cates and hosted, for the first time by Billy Crystal. The theme: “Movies Around the World—“ the ceremony itself being streamed live in five different countries. That ceremony was one of the first I remember because I entered a predictions contest in the Memphis Tennessee paper, The Commercial Appeal, and did quite well predicting both Daniel Day Lewis and Brenda Fricker for “My Left Foot.” I honestly have no idea if I had any insight or if it was blind luck. Pretty much exactly how I feel today when I have a great prediction year.

The very next year was the first time I became invested in every nominee for Best Picture. My parents forbade me to watch “Silence of the Lambs” but I managed to see the other four nominees. In 1991 I also saw my very first (at least, as I remember) foreign film: “Europa Europa” It won Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globe Awards and I somehow stumbled upon it on HBO. I watched it late at night, alone in my bedroom (just as I would watch “Silence” a few months after it won Best Picture once I convinced the local video store owner that I was mature enough to rent it due to my self labeled young Oscar afficianado status).

I can recall being incredibly moved by the emotions that Marco Hofschneider tapped into as Saloman, the young man who tries to conceal his Jewish identity by joining Hitler’s Nazi Army. Not only was “Europa” my first foreign film, it was the first time I saw how fickle the Academy could be. How could this film that moved me so much win the Globe, get nominated for an Original Screenplay Oscar and not get a Foreign Language Film nomination? These are the types of questions we Oscar progs still try to tackle when examining the process.

My journey with this category and with foreign films in general pretty much ran parallel with the general public for the next several years. I rarely saw a foreign film unless it sneaked into the Best Picture race– “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Life is Beautiful” are the examples that immediately come to mind. That is until 2006—when I had a dear friend introduce me to a while new world of cinema. We saw “Sophie Scholl” together, which let me to other nominated films that year: “Tsotsi” and “Paradise Now.” I began to fall in love with world cinema. The stories they tell are often so necessary, so imperative—, exposing, defining, sometimes defying. The filmmakers behind these stories seemed to work as if they had nothing, or perhaps everything to lose.

When I first starting thinking about the five nominated films from this year I saw a central underlying theme of death. Death appeared to be the watchword. Two of the films had lines that struck with me so fiercely that I wrote the down, and only when I began to go through my notes did I realize how similar they were. In “Tangerines” the Estonian entry, Ivo a neutral tangerine farmer caught in the middle of the Georgian conflict ends up housing two wounded men on both sides of the war. When speaking to his friend, also a pacifist, he states that they two men “are children of death.” In “Timbuktu,” the French-Mauritanian film, Timbuktu has been occupied by the jihadist Ansar Dine. The film looks at how life attempts to go on in Timbuktu, singing, dancing, sports, only to show the final consequences of living. One of the main characters suggests “we are all children of death.”

Death may be part of all five films, but the true common thread between “Tangerines,” “Timbuktu” and “Leviathan” is that all three films tackle issues the individual countries are facing today or at least very recently. American cinema is not afraid of tapping into the zeitgeist of our society, but rarely do I see a narrative feature go to such lengths to show us the truth of our current flaws.

“Leviathan” tells the story of Kolya, who lives with his wife and son in a small town in northwest Russia, as he is about to lose his home to a very currupt mayor. Koyla enlists his friend Dmitri, a laywer from Moscow to lawfully facilitate, an appeal. When the law doesn’t work, Dmitri looks to blackmail the evil mayor, but as you can imagine–this does not go well. “Leviathan” the film was clearly influenced by Thomas Hobbes’s book of the same name, which calls for a protecting sovereign with complete supreme authority, an undivided government protecting “all from all.” Both the film and the treatise come from the Book of Job in the Bible. Leviathan is a sea creature presented to Job by God as a lesson–since man cannot contain this beast, man should not question God in relation to the inhabitants of God’s earth. Director Andrey Zvyagintsev is clearly questioning the Russian authority over its people. And in a deeply thought provoking way. And not without a bit of humor to boot. The characters throw in quite a bit of vodka and adultery to go with all of the symbolism and metaphor.

On a completely different spectrum we have “Wild Tales—“ possibly the most entertaining film I have seen in quite a long time, consisting of 6 separate chapters. I went into this film knowing almost nothing about it, and I truly believe that is the best way to enter the world navigated by Argentinian writer/director Damian Szifron. That being said, here are some mostly spoiler free thoughts. I was riveted by each of the 6 vignettes, so much that I wanted more. The film begins in what I can only describe as “Final Destination” as conceived by the likes of Pedro Almodovar. (One of the film’s producers). It is almost impossible to pick a favorite story. Perhaps it is the road rage revenge segment that has hints of “Death Proof” only without the kitsch factor, more gruesome and equally as funny. Or the interesting look at how a family deals with a possible scandal due to an accident their spoiled son causes, flip flopping the tables on the theme of advantage taking. And then there is the final segment, starring Erica Rival, sure to find her way to Hollywood after this, in the most exciting post wedding reception I have seen on film. “Wild Tales” may not delve as deeply into the issues of the world at large, but it is certainly a standout.

Finally we have “Ida.” The film begins with Anna, a novice orphan preparing to take orders to become a nun, being visited by her Aunt, a former state judge who has come to break the news that Anna is Jewish and that her parents are dead–byproducts of Hitler’s holocaust. Mother Superior tells Anna to go with her Aunt, taking as long as she needs before returning. Watching “Ida” I couldn’t help notice how impeccably framed the shots were, the stunning cinematography, the fantastic production design and the stellar acting. All things you aren’t necessarily supposed to “notice” when you are watching a film.

I’m not exactly sure the moment that my critical mind let go, allowing my entire emotional being to take over the viewing the film. Days later, it is still in my heart. I have never seen a film say so much in such a simple way. I am still haunted by the way director Pawlikowski framed his muses, (Agata Tzrebuchowska and Agata Kulesza, both incredible), especially in closeup, un-centered, with a void of space surrounding them. To share the other moments of the film that continue to bring chills deep in my bones would be to share too much.

Writing about the Oscars has always been about discovery for me. And when the Academy nominates a film I have yet to see or haven’t even heard of I get very excited because I know I am almost always going to find a treasure. I hope you seek these films out as well. And on the 22nd, when most of America takes a break during the few minutes they announce the nominees in this category, and eventual winner you can get that warm feeling in your chest like I do knowing that you got to experience something special, something you wish more people would have the chance to feel. But secretly glad that it is your own private cinematic treat.

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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

“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.

Mommy

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.

Winter’s Sleep

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

“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.

Ida

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.

Force Majeure

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.

Timbuktu

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.

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From HR:

EUROPEAN FILM
Force Majeure
Sweden/Denmark/France/Norway

Ida
Poland/Denmark

Leviathan
Russia

Nymphomaniac Director’s Cut – Volume I & II
Denmark/Germany/France/Belgium

Winter Sleep
Turkey/France/Germany

EUROPEAN COMEDY
Carmina & Amen
Spain

Le Week-End
U.K.

The Mafia Only Kills in the Summer
Italy

EUROPEAN DIRECTOR
Nuri Bilge Ceylan for Winter Sleep
Steven Knight for Locke
Ruben Ostlund for Force Majeure
Paweł Pawlikowski for Ida
Paolo Virzì for Human Capital
Andrey Zvyagintsev for Leviathan

EUROPEAN ACTRESS
Marian Alvarez in WOUNDED
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi in HUMAN CAPITAL
Marion Cotillard in TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
Charlotte Gainsbourg in NYMPHOMANIAC DIRECTOR’S CUT – VOLUME I & II
Agata Kulesza in IDA
Agata Trzebuchowska in IDA

EUROPEAN ACTOR
Brendan Gleeson in Calvary
Tom Hardy in Locke
Alexey Serebryakov in Leviathan
Stellan Skarsgard in Nymphomaniac Director’s Cut – Volume I & II
Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner

EUROPEAN SCREENWRITER
Ebru Ceylan & Nuri Bilge Ceylan for WINTER SLEEP
Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne for TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
Steven Knight for LOCKE
Oleg Negin & Andrey Zvyagintsev for LEVIATHAN
Paweł Pawlikowski & Rebecca Lenkiewicz for IDA

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Don’t forget to follow Nathaniel Rogers at The Film Experience for the very best coverage anywhere of the foreign language race.

Cannes favorites so in the race: Mommy, Wild Tales, Winter Sleep, Leviathan!

The 2014 submissions are:

Afghanistan, “A Few Cubic Meters of Love,” Jamshid Mahmoudi, director;
Argentina, “Wild Tales,” Damián Szifrón, director;
Australia, “Charlie’s Country,” Rolf de Heer, director;
Austria, “The Dark Valley,” Andreas Prochaska, director;
Azerbaijan, “Nabat,” Elchin Musaoglu, director;
Bangladesh, “Glow of the Firefly,” Khalid Mahmood Mithu, director;
Belgium, “Two Days, One Night,” Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, directors;
Bolivia, “Forgotten,” Carlos Bolado, director;
Bosnia and Herzegovina, “With Mom,” Faruk Lončarevič, director;
Brazil, “The Way He Looks,” Daniel Ribeiro, director;
Bulgaria, “Bulgarian Rhapsody,” Ivan Nitchev, director;
Canada, “Mommy,” Xavier Dolan, director;
Chile, “To Kill a Man,” Alejandro Fernández Almendras, director;
China, “The Nightingale,” Philippe Muyl, director;
Colombia, “Mateo,” María Gamboa, director;
Costa Rica, “Red Princesses,” Laura Astorga Carrera, director;
Croatia, “Cowboys,” Tomislav Mršić, director;
Cuba, “Conducta,” Ernesto Daranas Serrano, director;
Czech Republic, “Fair Play,” Andrea Sedláčková, director;
Denmark, “Sorrow and Joy,” Nils Malmros, director;
Dominican Republic, “Cristo Rey,” Leticia Tonos, director;
Ecuador, “Silence in Dreamland,” Tito Molina, director;
Egypt, “Factory Girl,” Mohamed Khan, director;
Estonia, “Tangerines,” Zaza Urushadze, director;
Ethiopia, “Difret,” Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, director;
Finland, “Concrete Night,” Pirjo Honkasalo, director;
France, “Saint Laurent,” Bertrand Bonello, director;
Georgia, “Corn Island,” George Ovashvili, director;
Germany, “Beloved Sisters,” Dominik Graf, director;
Greece, “Little England,” Pantelis Voulgaris, director;
Hong Kong, “The Golden Era,” Ann Hui, director;
Hungary, “White God,” Kornél Mundruczó, director;
Iceland, “Life in a Fishbowl,” Baldvin Zophoníasson, director;
India, “Liar’s Dice,” Geetu Mohandas, director;
Indonesia, “Soekarno,” Hanung Bramantyo, director;
Iran, “Today,” Reza Mirkarimi, director;
Iraq, “Mardan,” Batin Ghobadi, director;
Ireland, “The Gift,” Tom Collins, director;
Israel, “Gett, the Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz, directors;
Italy, “Human Capital,” Paolo Virzì, director;
Japan, “The Light Shines Only There,” Mipo O, director;
Kosovo, “Three Windows and a Hanging,” Isa Qosja, director;
Kyrgyzstan, “Kurmanjan Datka Queen of the Mountains,” Sadyk Sher-Niyaz, director;
Latvia, “Rocks in My Pockets,” Signe Baumane, director;
Lebanon, “Ghadi,” Amin Dora, director;
Lithuania, “The Gambler,” Ignas Jonynas, director;
Luxembourg, “Never Die Young,” Pol Cruchten, director;
Macedonia, “To the Hilt,” Stole Popov, director;
Malta, “Simshar,” Rebecca Cremona, director;
Mauritania, “Timbuktu,” Abderrahmane Sissako, director;
Mexico, “Cantinflas,” Sebastián del Amo, director;
Moldova, “The Unsaved,” Igor Cobileanski, director;
Montenegro, “The Kids from the Marx and Engels Street,” Nikola Vukčević, director;
Morocco, “The Red Moon,” Hassan Benjelloun, director;
Nepal, “Jhola,” Yadav Kumar Bhattarai, director;
Netherlands, “Accused,” Paula van der Oest, director;
New Zealand, “The Dead Lands,” Toa Fraser, director;
Norway, “1001 Grams,” Bent Hamer, director;
Pakistan, “Dukhtar,” Afia Nathaniel, director;
Palestine, “Eyes of a Thief,” Najwa Najjar, director;
Panama, “Invasion,” Abner Benaim, director;
Peru, “The Gospel of the Flesh,” Eduardo Mendoza, director;
Philippines, “Norte, the End of History,” Lav Diaz, director;
Poland, “Ida,” Paweł Pawlikowski, director;
Portugal, “What Now? Remind Me,” Joaquim Pinto, director;
Romania, “The Japanese Dog,” Tudor Cristian Jurgiu, director;
Russia, “Leviathan,” Andrey Zvyagintsev, director;
Serbia, “See You in Montevideo,” Dragan Bjelogrlić, director;
Singapore, “Sayang Disayang,” Sanif Olek, director;
Slovakia, “A Step into the Dark,” Miloslav Luther, director;
Slovenia, “Seduce Me,” Marko Šantić, director;
South Africa, “Elelwani,” Ntshavheni Wa Luruli, director;
South Korea, “Haemoo,” Shim Sung-bo, director;
Spain, “Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed,” David Trueba, director;
Sweden, “Force Majeure,” Ruben Östlund, director;
Switzerland, “The Circle,” Stefan Haupt, director;
Taiwan, “Ice Poison,” Midi Z, director;
Thailand, “The Teacher’s Diary,” Nithiwat Tharathorn, director;
Turkey, “Winter Sleep,” Nuri Bilge Ceylan, director;
Ukraine, “The Guide,” Oles Sanin, director;
United Kingdom, “Little Happiness,” Nihat Seven, director;
Uruguay, “Mr. Kaplan,” Álvaro Brechner, director;
Venezuela, “The Liberator,” Alberto Arvelo, director.

www.indiewire-51

Canada has chosen Xavier Dolan’s Mommy as their official submission to the foreign language Oscar competition.  With so much to despair about the lack of inspiration in filmmaking, Dolan bursts through convention by reinventing his own brand of storytelling, using pure imagination and innovation to create something unlike anything else you’ll see this year. On the festival circuit, audiences have been embracing this exuberant, insane film about “motherhood.”

In the tradition of Edward Albee, Billy Wilder and Ken Russell, Dolan unzips the volatile mother/son bond with a mother who should never have been a mother and a son trying to cope with his own mental illness and inability to control himself. Dolan directs like Van Gogh painted – passionately, with prime colors and broad strokes, on the edge of insanity always, listening to a drumbeat that comes only once or twice in a generation.  

Great writing, directing, acting – from the ground up. These tools do not come from any branded toolbox. These are original characters and an original story and easily one of the best films of 2014.

leviathan

Leviathan looks to be one of the strongest contenders for foreign language film but it hasn’t yet been selected as the country’s official submission. If it isn’t submitted it could still get in but it’s a harder climb.

Exclusive over at Hitfix:

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Variety reports that Pawel Palikowski’s Ida will be Germany’s Poland’s choice for Oscar consideration. It will very likely get in.

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Thanks to Paddy at ScreenOnScreen for catching the first clip from Mommy, after the cut.

Continue reading…

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Xavier Dolan’s speech upon winning the Jury Prize at Cannes for his film Mommy was the most emotional moment of the ceremony. Without a clip to show his expressiveness the words may lose a little impact — but very little.

“To Jane Campion: The Piano is the first film I watched when I asked my stepmother at 16, ‘What should I watch?’ Your Piano made me want to write roles for women — beautiful women with soul and will and strength, not victims, not objects.

I’m still young —- but a word for my generation. Some people will dislike what you do, some will dislike who you are. But let’s hold onto our dreams because together we can change the world and changing the world takes time. Not just politicians and scientists can change it. But artists as well. Everything is possible for those who dare and dream and work.”

Continue reading…

spall

Palme d’or
Winter sleep, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Best Director
Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher

Grand Prix
Les Merveilles (Le Meraviglie) directed by Alice Rohrwacher

Jury Prize
Xavier Dolan for Mommy
Jean-Luc Godard for Goodbye to Language

Best Actress
Julianne Moore for Maps to the Stars

Best Actor
Timothy Spall for Mr Turner

Prix du scénario
Andrei Zviaguintsev et Oleg Negin for Leviathan

Camera d’or
Party Girl from Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger, Samuel Theis

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One of the more memorable films here at the Cannes film fest will have to be French/Ivory Coast director Philippe Lacôte’s Run, about a man living on the Ivory Coast who finds himself on the run from many situations and complicated relationships. He runs when things get problematic and his name is also Run. That shouldn’t be too surprising, given the poetic nature of the writing here, which shifts freely from real-time dialogue to live spoken monologue, to voice overs. Run tells his story, what shaped him in his early life to become what he ends up being — an assassin.
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Zhang Yimou’s Coming Home is the latest film “rumored” to be coming to Cannes, according to this site. Coming Home is based on “Yan Geling’s novel ‘The Criminal Lu Yanshi,’ which tells a story of an old man’s emotional return to his family after decades of separation,” the website reports.

Recently Yimou joined Ang Lee at an NYU’s sponsored talk on the future of Chinese cinema (which will likely dominate the world’s market in five to ten years). Both directors also talk about their upcoming projects. Reported by NY Times’ Arts Beat.

Predicting that within five years the world’s filmmakers and distributors will all be “leaning forward to the Chinese market,” Mr. Zhang cautioned that the Chinese industry needed to place less emphasis on profits and “popcorn movies” and noted a lack of current Chinese films that were “full of imagination,” as well as good novels and stories to use as sources.

“It’s easy to say we have good movies, but difficult to do it,” he said.

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by Stephen Holt

When it seems like Hollywood is never going to budge from its male-dominated ways of doing things, from the making of films to the giving out of Oscars, the annual “Rendevous avec French Cinema” which just wrapped its’ 19th edition in NYC, presented many fascinating films by women directors this year. In fact, more than ever before. I counted ten, nearly half of the two dozen films represented! Imagine if the Oscar nomination for Best Director reflected parity of this kind. Incroyable!

And one of the major highlights of this year’s more-popular-than-ever, sold-out “Rendez-vous” was “Action!” a special evening in celebration of International Women’s Day, featuring a screening of the documentary film “Cineast(e)s” which explores the role of women in film from the perspective of 20 acclaimed French women realisateurs. The panelists in the discussion that followed at the Alliance Francaise’s Florence Gould Hall included Justine Triet, Axelle Ropert, Katell Quillevere and Rebecca Zlowtowski.

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Cannes and Oscar couldn’t be more polar opposite from each other. To make a sweeping statement about the difference, I’d say that the Oscar race isn’t about the movies: it’s about the industry that votes on the movies. Their choices illuminate who they are, how they’ve evolved, what they care about. Cannes has no such handicap. It is a true celebration of cinema from all over the world without concern about star power or box office. As an American covering Cannes it’s important to remember that – sure, box office gets thrown around, as in “it’s great but it won’t make a dime” in the same way movies are square pegs that often get stuffed into the round hole when deeming them “Oscar worthy,” as in “but will the Academy go for it.”

Where Cannes is concerned, one need not bother with second guessing its jury. You will lose anyway if you try to do that – who would have thought that a Steven Spielberg-led jury would have picked Blue is the Warmest Colour for their Palme d’Or? Most journalists figured no way would they ever go for that and they were modifying their predictions accordingly, thinking Spielberg would go the sentimental route. The end goal of Cannes isn’t really their awards so much, not for our purposes anyway. We’re more interested in what movies are worthy of attention, with one lazy eye on what’s potentially “Oscar worthy.”
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It’s pretty crazy that voters will now treat foreign films as they treat every other category – the honor system. They’re moving in the wrong direction, I figure. The hard part is getting the voters to see all of the movies.  The only good thing about the Oscars was that voters had to see all five films before voting in Foreign and in Doc.  Either way, Anne Thompson believes the sleeper winner might be The Broken Circle Breakdown (now streaming on iTunes), not The Hunt or The Great Beauty:

This is the first year all the Academy members get to vote on the honor system for best foreign film. If I were to pick a foreign Oscar winner this year on the basis of what the entire Academy would like best, it would be Belgian entry and European Film Awards Best Actress-winner “Broken Circle Breakdown,” a sexy and tragic musical family drama adapted from a stage musical, featuring bluegrass music. Up to now, it has not played in many theaters and has not been widely viewed by the Academy at large–who just got their five foreign screeners yesterday.

Two years ago, A Separation took Asghar Farhadi from being an acclaimed filmmaker in his native Iran, to a renowned figure in global cinema. The film won dozens of awards worldwide, including the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, in addition to Farhadi being nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Farhadi’s latest film, The Past, came roaring out of the gate at Cannes this year where it won two awards. It recently received Golden Globe and Critics Choice nominations for Best Foreign Language Film.

The Past begins with Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returning from Iran to Paris to finalize his divorce from his wife Marie (Oscar-nominee Berenice Bejo). He must confront her, her children, and her new love Samir (Tahar Rahim), whose wife is in a coma following her failed suicide attempt. Although the film begins with the promise of moving forward, the members of this fractured and reconstructed family must confront the well-kept and not-so-well-kept secrets of a painful past.
Sony Pictures Classics is releasing The Past in limited release on Friday, December 20th. In anticipation, I had the pleasure of interviewing Farhadi again, two years after our last conversation about A Separation. Here’s what Farhadi shared with me about constructing the narrative of this family, working in a language he didn’t speak, and crafting The Past.

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Belgium, “The Broken Circle Breakdown,” Felix van Groeningen, director;
Bosnia and Herzegovina, “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker,” Danis Tanovic, director;
Cambodia, “The Missing Picture,” Rithy Panh, director;
Denmark, “The Hunt,” Thomas Vinterberg, director;
Germany, “Two Lives,” Georg Maas, director;
Hong Kong, “The Grandmaster,” Wong Kar-wai, director;
Hungary, “The Notebook,” Janos Szasz, director;
Italy, “The Great Beauty,” Paolo Sorrentino, director;
Palestine, “Omar,” Hany Abu-Assad, director.

 

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