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The Foreign Awards Race

Many are eligible, few will be rewarded. Mike Goodridge reports as the race heats up for this year’s foreign-film glory

The foreign-language film category of English-language awards such as the Academy Awards, Baftas and Golden Globes presents voters with some intriguing conundrums.

Oscar voters are asked to consider deliberately paced art films such as Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives or Honey (Bal), which delighted the world’s critics and won the Palme d’Or and Golden Bear respectively. But in the same category, they are also being asked to look at mainstream crowdpleasers including Korea’s A Barefoot Dream and Taiwan’s Monga

Bafta voters have an even broader field to choose from, including box-office hits The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Heartbreaker and the popular I Am Love. And unlike Ampas members, they are not restricted to one French film in Of Gods And Men, instead being presented with a Gallic feast that encompasses On Tour, White Material, Gainsbourg, Leaving, The Father Of My Children and Enter The Void.

Likewise, Globe voters had the chance to nominate a slew of world films which Ampas couldn’t assess and chose two — I Am Love and The Concert — which weren’t eligible for an Oscar. The others, Biutiful (Mexico), In A Better World (Denmark) and The Edge (Russia), are all Oscar submissions.

Alexei Uchitel’s war drama The Edge was a surprise Globe nominee, edging out more obvious choices Of Gods And Men and Incendies. The Edge is set -during the Second World War and -follows a war hero who arrives in a -Siberian labour camp and falls in love with a German girl who is also a prisoner. -Uchitel’s 2001 film His Wife’s Diary was also the Oscar submission from Russia in that year.

All these foreign-language categories are arbitrary, of course, and there is endless debate over their validity from -critics and awards pundits when an unexpected film wins or a masterpiece is neglected.

Oscar voters opted for The Secret In Their Eyes last year, a comfortable romantic thriller from Argentina, over The White Ribbon or A Prophet, two of the year’s most acclaimed titles. And in 2006, the Golden Globes chose to include Clint Eastwood’s US-financed and produced Letters From Iwo Jima in its foreign language category. It went on to beat The Lives Of Others, Pan’s Labyrinth and Volver.

 Perhaps the most important role of this -category is less to determine
a winner — after all, voting bodies have a whole world of styles and themes
to choose from — and more to bring
new -audiences to the films that are eli-g-ible or nominated.

In the spirit of such arbitrariness, here are assessments of some of the films in the race for an award.

LEADERS OF THE PACK

I Am Love

Luca Guadagnino’s sumptuous melodrama was passed over as the Italian Oscar submission but could win nominations in other categories such
as lead actress for Tilda Swinton. A foreign-language hit in the US and UK, it has already clinched
Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations.

Of Gods and Men

A huge box-office hit in France, a best film nominee at the European Film Awards and winner of the grand jury prize at Cannes this year, Xavier Beauvois’ true life drama about the deaths of seven Trappist monks in Algeria in 1996 is the kind of serious cinema which should go all the way to the Oscars.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Only eligible for a Bafta nomination this year, Niels Arden Oplev’s Euro blockbuster could hit the mark for introducing audiences to Lisbeth Salander as played by Noomi Rapace. The best of the Millennium trilogy, it is one of three nominees for the Critics’ Choice Awards alongside I Am Love and Biutiful.

Incendies [pictured]

Denis Villeneuve’s devastating story of second-generation Lebanese immigrants in Canada investigating their late mother’s past
during the 1982 Lebanese war had audiences enthralled in Venice and Toronto and was quickly snapped up by buyers everywhere including Sony Pictures Classics in the US.

Peepli [Live]

This 95-minute political satire from India directed by Anusha Rizvi and Mahmood Farooqui should be more palatable to western voters than any three-hour Bollywood musical. Multi-layered, witty and rich with Indian charm, it could tick all the boxes.

Outside the Law

A rousing old-fashioned epic could be just what older voters are looking for and Rachid Bouchareb’s story of the Algerian resistance in France in the 1960s is just that. His Days Of Glory (Indigenes) was nominated for an Oscar in 2007.

When We Leave

Germany’s Oscar submission is a slow-burning story about the events leading to an honour killing in the Turkish community of Berlin, and while
Feo Aladag’s film could prove too harrowing for some, others will respond to its heart-wrenching depiction of family rejection and a note-perfect performance by Sibel Kekilli.

The Concert

The French box office smash from Radu Mihaileanu is an audience-pleaser about a high-stakes concert by the Bolshoi orchestra in Paris and was released in the US by The Weinstein Company. A Globe nominee for best foreign-language film, it could also win a Bafta nod, although it is not the official French selection for the Oscar.

Honey (Bal)

Semih Kaplanoglu’s Berlin Golden Bear winner may be too slow and wordless for more traditional voters but a charming performance from seven-year-old Boras Altas could win the day and ensure the same warm response as other movies featuring cute children such as Kolya, Cinema Paradiso and Central Station.

Biutiful

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s most uncompromising work to date may not be the feelgood film of the year but a committed star turn by Javier Bardem and its raw portrait of poverty and despair could resonate with voters. It has already won Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations.

In A Better World

Susanne Bier and writer Anders Tomas Jensen always manage to stir up audience emotions and their latest cocktail of melodrama and moral dilemmas is no exception as tensions run high for assorted characters in Denmark and Africa. Already a Golden Globe nominee.

Carlos

Is it a five-hour movie or a three-part miniseries? Olivier Assayas’ epic story of terrorist Carlos the Jackal was named foreign-language film of the year by both the New York Film Critics Circle and Los Angeles Film Critics Association, yet the Hollywood Foreign Press Association nominated it as best TV miniseries of the year. And a good part of the dialogue is in English. Whatever the category, it’s one of the best of the year.

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