Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards are not until Tuesday January 22, but the first submissions for best foreign-language film are now being announced.
Last year saw a record 92 submissions for the award, which were narrowed down to a shortlist of nine. This was cut to five nominees, with Sebastián Lelio’s transgender drama A Fantastic Woman ultimately taking home the gold statue.
Screen’s interview with Mark Johnson, chair of the Academy’s foreign-language film committee, explains the shortlisting process from submission to voting.
Submitted films must be released theatrically in their respective countries between October 1 2017 and September 30 2018.
Indonesia: Marlina The Murderer In Four Acts (Mouly Surya)
Souly’s third feature is set on the island of Sumba in eastern Indonesia, and follows a young widow who embarks on a journey seeking justice and empowerment after being attacked by robbers and killing several men. It premiered in Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes 2017, and has sold to more than 40 territories through sales agent Asian Shadows, including the US, UK and Italy. This is the country’s 20th Oscar submission, which has yet to bring a nomination or shortlisted title.
Lebanon: Capernaüm (Nadine Labaki)
A 2018 nod for Ziad Douieri’s The Insult represented Lebanon’s first nomination in 14 attempts; Labaki’s Cannes 2018 Competition entry represents a decent shot at two in a row, with reports of a standing ovation for the film following its Croisette bow. Shot on the streets of Beirut using non-professional actors, the story is a drama about a 12 year-old boy who takes his parents to court. Screen‘s review called it ’a howl of protest against social injustice…has the anger, the energy and a galvanising central performance by Syrian migrant child Zain al Rafeea to move audiences the world over’.
Slovenia: Ivan (Janez Burger)
Ivan cleaned up at the 2017 Slovenian Film Festival, taking home eight prizes including best film, best screenplay and best actress for Marusa Majer. Burger’s fifth feature centres on Mara, a young woman forced to choose between the man she loves and her newborn son Ivan when she is caught in a corruption affair. This is Burger’s third Oscar submission of Slovenia’s 22 in total, although his 2012 entry Silent Sonata was disqualified for not being submitted to the Academy.
Austria: The Waldheim Waltz (Ruth Beckermann)
Veteran director Beckermann’s latest is a biographical drama about former UN Secretary General Kurt Josef Waldheim, and the controversy of his participation and role in the Nazi regime during the Second World War. This is Austria’s 42nd foreign language award submission; they have four previous nominations, with two wins in 2008 for Stefan Ruzowitsky’s The Counterfeiters, and in 2013, for Michael Haneke’s Amour (which won the previous year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes). The Waldheim Waltz won the original documentary award at Berlinale 2018.
Belarus: Crystal Swan (Darya Zhuk)
Darya Zhuk’s debut is about a wannabe DJ growing up in post-Soviet Belarus in the 1990s, who dreams of moving to the US but makes a tiny error on her visa application throwing her plans into disarray. Produced by Demarsh Films, Crystal Swan opened the East of the West competition at Karlovy Vary in June. Speaking to Screen about the film, Zhuk said, “I was trying to capture this certain female cool.” Paris’ Loco Films handling international sales.
Belgium: Girl (Lukas Dhont)
Dhont’s debut feature was a success at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Caméra d’Or and the Queer Palm, as well as the Un Certain Regard jury award for best performance for Victor Polster. The story concerns a young girl born in a boy’s body, who longs to be a ballerina. Dhont spoke to Screen in May about the genderless casting process he undertook for the lead role. The film is Belgium’s 43rd submission to the foreign-language award; the country has submitted an entry for the last 28 years in a row, and achieved 7 nominations in total, most recently for Felix Van Groeningen’s The Broken Circle Breakdown in 2013.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Never Leave Me (Aida Begić)
Begić’s first feature since 2012 Cannes Un Certain Regard selection Children Of Sarajevo - which was also a Bosnian Oscar entry - centres three Syrian refugee boys who live in the mythical Turkish city of Sanliurfa, and are searching for recovery from a traumatic past. It premiered at Antalya Film Festival in 2017, and has played at festivals including Dubai in 2017 and Edinburgh in 2018. This is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 18th foreign language award entry; the country picked up the top award for Danis Tanović’s No Man’s Land in 2002. Begić’s Snow was also the country’s entry for the 2009 awards.
Bulgaria: Omnipresent (Ilian Djevelekov)
Djevelekov’s film centres on advertising agency owner Emil, who loses track of an innocent hobby and ends up spying on his family, friends and employees. The film received the FIPRESCI prize at the 2018 Sofia Film Festival, as well as five awards at Bulgaria’s Golden Rose Film Festival, including best film and the audience award. This is Bulgaria’s 29th Oscar submission; the country’s best result to date came in 2010, when Stephan Komandarev’s The World Is Big And Salvation Lurks Around The Corner made the January shortlist.
Croatia: The Eighth Commissioner (Ivan Salaj)
Croatia has submitted an entry to the foreign language award every year since 1992 (the country achieved independence in 1991), and is yet to score a nomination. Salaj’s comedy, based on Renato Baretić’s novel, sees a disgraced politician sent to the isolated island of Trećić, where he is given the troublesome task of organising the local elections. This is Salaj’s sophomore feature, after 2016’s Transmania.
Czech Republic: Winter Flies (Olmo Omerzu)
Slovenian-born, Prague-based director Omerzu’s third feature premiered at Karlovy Vary in July, where it played in Competition. Omerzu picked up the best director prize at the festival; his film has since gone on to Toronto. The story is a road-trip comedy centring two adolescent boys who steal a car. This is the Czech Republic’s 25th submission to the award since the country formed after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993. The new state won the full award in 1997 for Jan Svěrák’s Kolya, and was also nominated in 2001 for Jan Hřebejk’s Divided We Fall and in 2004 for Ondřej Trojan’s Želary.
Estonia: Take It Or Leave It (Liina Triškina-Vanhatalo)
Triškina-Vanhatalo’s Take It Or Leave It was produced by experienced Allfilm producer Ivo Felt, whose Tangerines (directed by Zaza Urushadze) earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. The film was produced for the Estonia 100 initiative honouring the countries centenary, and revolves around a young man becoming a single father.
Finland: Euthanizer (Teemu Nikii)
Euthanizer premiered at Toronto International Film Festival in 2017, before playing around the circuit including at Tokyo and Italy’s Biografilm. Nikin spoke to Screen about the film in 2017, describing it as ”a violent Finnish summer noir”. It centres a 50-year-old mechanic who has a sideline putting sick animals to sleep more cheaply than the local veterinarian. This is Finland’s 32nd submission to the foreign language prize; the country has received one nomination in 2003 for Aki Kaurismäki’s The Man Without A Past, while Klaus Härö’s The Fencer made the December shortlist for the 2016 awards.
Georgia: Namme (Zaza Khalvashi)
Khalvashi’s fourth feature was nominated for prizes at festivals in 2017 including Tokyo International Film Festival and Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. The film centres a family who must care for a spring of local healing water; of the four children, only youngest daughter Namme is not skeptical of the powers of the spring. This is Georgia’s 17th foreign language award entry; only the first, Nana Jorjadze’s A Chef In Love, achieved a nomination in 1997, while Giorgi Ovashvili’s Corn Island made the January shortlist in 2015.
Germany: Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
von Donnersmarck is a previous winner in this category, in 2007 for Cold War spy drama The Lives Of Others. His new film, selected by the German nine-person jury representing different cinema trade associations, follows an art student whose relationship with a fellow student is threatened by her medical professor father. Since the union of West and East Germany, the country has 10 Oscar nominations, with one other win for Caroline Link’s Nowhere In Africa in 2003. Never Look Away premieres in Competition at the 2018 Venice Film Festival. Read the full story here.
Greece: Polyxeni (Dora Masklavanou)
Masklavanou has worked extensively as an actor and editor; her first directorial feature since 2005’s Coming As A Friend picked up four prizes at Greece’s Iris awards in 2018, including best actress for Katia Goulioni. The film is a drama about an orphaned Greek girl in 1955, who is adopted by a prominent couple and put towards a brighter future. Greece has no Oscar wins from 38 submissions; their most recent of five nominations was in 2011, for Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth.
Hungary: Sunset (László Nemes)
Nemes is back in the Oscar race again, three years after his WWII-set debut Son Of Saul went all the way to the top. Sunset premiered at Venice in September, with Screen’s review calling it “a film dripping with brooding atmosphere that fashions drama out of locations as much as plot or character”. Set in Budapest in 1913, the film focuses on Irisz Leiter, a young woman who arrives in the Hungarian capital hoping to work at a legendary hat store previously owned by her late parents. When she is turned away, she sets on a search for a man who can reveal the truth about a lost past. Screen premiered the first full trailer for the film in August. Son Of Saul was Hungary’s second win in the category, after István Szabó’s Mephisto in 1982. The two wins come from ten total nominations since 1965.
Kosovo: The Marriage (Blerta Zeqiri)
Zeqiri’s feature debut won the FIPRESCI award at Tallin Black Nights festival in 2017, while the director won a Sundance jury prize for short film Kthimi in 2012. Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, has made four previous Oscar foreign language submissions, and is yet to receive a nomination. Alban Ukaj, Adriana Matoshi and Genc Salihu star in the story of a husband who holds a secret from his wife - he’s in love with his male best friend. Zeqiri spoke to Screen about the motivation behind telling the story in 2017, saying, “It doesn’t make sense that anyone could forbid love.”
Latvia: To Be Continued (Ivars Seleckis)
83-year-old director Seleckis’ documentary was chosen by Latvia’s panel from eight submissions. It was made with support from the Latvian National Film Centre as part of the country’s Centenary programme to celebrate 100 years of independence. To Be Continued follows seven young children to look at how the future impacts our lives. It is the country’s 11th foreign language award submission; Latvia is yet to receive its first nomination. Released in its home country in March 2018, it has since played at events including Switzerland’s Visions du Réel.
Lithuania: Wonderful Losers: A Different World (Arūnas Matelis)
Matelis’ second Oscar submission - after 2006’s Before Flying Back To Earth - is a documentary about the medics and water carriers who assist in professional cycling races without receiving any of the glory. It has picked up several prizes including three Lithuanian Film Awards - best documentary, best score and the audience award. This is Lithuania’s 11th submission, and the country is yet to receive a nomination or have a shortlisted title.
Luxembourg: Gutland (Govinda Van Maele)
Van Maele’s film premiered at Toronto in 2017, before playing at festivals including Tokyo, Rotterdam and Galway Film Fleadh. It is a surrealist rural noir about a German thief who flees to a small Luxembourg village, only to discover that the locals have secrets of their own. This is Luxembourg’s 15th submission to the foreign language Oscar; the country has no nominations so far.
Montenegro: Iskra (Gojko Berkuljan)
Berkulijan’s feature debut stars Mirko Vlahovic as retired police detective Petar, who lives for his daughter Iskra. When she disappears, Petar must reach back into his past to help the investigation. Iskra played at Balkan festivals including Montenegro and Belgrade Film Festival. This is Montenegro’s fifth Oscar submission, with their first coming for the 2014 awards; the country is yet to receive a nomination.
Netherlands: The Resistance Banker (Joram Lursen)
Lursen’s ninth feature is a true-story World War Two drama about Walraven van Hall, who created ways to finance the resistance during Nazi occupation. The film has been nominated for 12 prizes at the Golden Calf awards, the main film ceremony in the Netherlands. Barry Atsma takes the lead role, with Jacob Derwig as his brother Gijs who assisted in the covert operation. The film is the Netherlands 51st submission to the award; the country received the top prize for The Assault (1987), Antonia’s Line (1996) and Character (1998), as three of seven total nominations.
Norway: What Will People Say (Iram Haq)
Often the bridesmaid, never the bride, Norway has five previous Oscar nominations from 39 submissions, but is still waiting for its first gold man. Haq’s sophomore feature after 2013’s I Am Yours is a Norway-Germany-Sweden-France-Denmark co-production, and follows 16-year old Pakistani teenager Nisha, who is sent back from Norway to her native country for supposedly damaging her family’s reputation. The film premiered at Toronto in 2017, and won four prizes at Norway’s 2018 Amanda awards including best film, director, screenplay and actor for Adil Hussain. Screen premiered the first trailer last year, and spoke to Haq about a personal experience she used as inspiration for the film.
Portugal: Peregrinação (João Botelho)
Peregrinação - which translates as Pilgrimage - is loosely based on Fernão Mendes Pinto’s book of the same name, which was first published in 1614. Botelho’s adaptation extends the adventures of sailors in Asia to include their family life in their native land. The film is Botelho’s third time representing Portugal at the Academy Awards, following Hard Times in 1989 and Three Palm Trees in 1995. It is the country’s 35th submission to the awards; the previous 34 have not brought a nomination.
Romania: I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians (Radu Jude)
Barbarians is Jude’s second film to represent Romania in the submissions, after Aferim! in 2016. It tells the story of theatre director Mariana (Ioana Iacob), who wants to stage a public re-enactment of the Odessa Massacre during World War II, when the Romanian army executed thousands of innocent Jews. Produced by Hi Film Productions (Romania), and co-produced by Endorfilm (Czech Republic), Les Films d’Ici (France), Klas Film (Bulgaria) and Komplizen Film, international sales on the film are being handled by Beta Cinema.
Russia: Sobibor (Konstantin Khabensky)
Russian actor Khabensky’s World War 2 debut feature caused a stir when it screened at Cannes this year; the director spoke out to defend the graphic Nazi gas chamber scenes, saying without them he “would not have been able to show how fast the human life would stop”. The film depicts the uprising at Sobibor extermination camp in 1943, which led to a mass escape of prisoners. Khabensky plays Alexander Pechersky, the Soviet officer who led the revolt. This is Russia’s 26th submission to the award; the country has seven nominations in total, with Nikita Mikhalov’s Burnt By The Sun winning the main prize in 1995.
Serbia: Offenders (Dejan Zečević)
This is Serbia’s 25th submission to the foreign language award; the closest the country has come was making the January shortlist with The Trap in 2008. It centres three students who set up separate experiments around the city to prove their maverick professor’s ’Tetris’ theory of chaos. It premiered at Chicago international film festival in 2017.
Slovakia: The Interpreter (Martin Sulik)
Martin Sulik has directed six previous Slovak Oscar submissions including 2011’s Gypsy; his new film had its world premiere at Berlinale Special at Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. With Toni Erdmann star Peter Simonischek and Czech film stalwart Jiří Menzel in the lead roles, the film follows Georg (Simonischek), a retiree living in Vienna who is visited by Ali (Menzel), an interpreter looking for the Nazi officer who may have killed his parents in Slovakia. The two men find a common interest, and begin a journey across Slovakia to find surviving witnesses of the wartime tragedy. Celluloid Dreams handles international sales; Menemsha Films will distribute in the US. Screen premiered the first trailer exclusively in February.
Spain: Champions (Javier Fesser)
Written by Fesser and David Marqués (Dioses Y Perros), the film is a comedy-drama about a basketball coach who is sentenced to do community service with a team of mentally disabled players. The film was shot with non-professional actors, including many with disabilities. Spain is one of the most successful countries in the foreign language award, with 19 nominations from 61 submissions and four victories. However it will be 14 years since the country’s last nomination by the time of the 2019 ceremony (Alejandro Amenábar’s The Sea Inside won the award in 2005). Read the full article here.
Sweden: Border (Ali Abbasi)
Abbasi’s sophomore feature won the Un Certain Regard prize at 2018’s Cannes Film Festival. It follows a customs officer who forms a special bond with a subject she is investigating; Abbasi talked to Screen about how the story channels “the experience of being a minority”. Ingmar Bergman won Sweden’s only Oscars in this category with prizes for The Virgin Spring (1960), Through A Glass Darkly (1961) and Fanny And Alexander (1983); the country has received 16 nominations in total, including last year for Ruben Östlund’s The Square (his Force Majeure was a surprise omission in 2014).
Switzerland: Eldorado (Markus Imhoof)
Previously Oscar nominated for The Boat Is Full in 1981, Markus Imhoof’s documentary about the current worldwide refugee crisis had its world premiere at Berlin Film Festival in 2018. It draws inspiration from Giovanna, the refugee child taken in by Imhoof’s family in World War II. The film was coproduced by Thelma Film in Switzerland, zero one film in Berlin, Swiss Radio and Television (SRF) and Bavarian Broadcasting (BR). Berlin’s Films Boutique is handling world sales, with territories including France, Hungary and Poland already sold.
Turkey: The Wild Pear Tree (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
This is Ceylan’s fifth submission to the foreign-language film Oscar consideration, after Distant (2003), Three Monkeys (2008), Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (2011) and Winter Sleep (2014). Turkey has never had a nomination from 24 previous submissions, with Three Monkeys coming the closest by making the January shortlist. Ceylan’s film, which premiered at Cannes in Competition, follows a young man about to graduate college, who is looking for a way out of the fate that seems to be mapped out for him. Memento Films handles international sales.
UK: I Am Not A Witch (Rungano Nyoni)
Zambian-Welsh director Nyoni’s BFI-backed debut feature is a darkly satirical story of a young girl in Zambia accused of witchcraft. It premiered at Cannes 2017, before a UK release in October last year, and has won multiple awards across the world, including a Bafta for outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer, and three British Independent Film Awards (BIFAs), two of which were for Nyoni’s directing. The UK has made fifteen previous entries to the foreign language film award, with two nominations, both for Welsh language titles - Paul Turner’s Hedd Wyn (1993) and Paul Morrison’s Solomon And Gaenor. Read the full story here.
Ukraine: Donbass (Sergei Loznitsa)
Loznitsa’s first submission to the foreign language award opened Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar in May 2018, with Loznitsa winning the directing award in the section. It is a black comedy set in Ukraine’s Donbass region, following thirteen different episodes that are based on real events, with a background of conflict between the Ukranian army and the Russian-backed separatist militia. Ukraine has submitted ten previous titles to this award, with no nominations.
Algeria: Until The End Of Time (Yasmine Chouikh)
Algeria hit the jackpot with its first Oscar submission; Costa Gavras’ Z took home the prize in 1970, with Algeria still the only Arab country to win the award. Since then a further four nominations have been secured from 18 submissions, most recently for Rachid Bouchareb’s Outside The Law in 2011. Chouikh’s selection marks a family succession; her mother Yamina’s film Rachida was chosen as Algeria’s entry for the 2003 awards. Yasmine’s film sees an unexpected romance between gravedigger Ali and Johar, a lady visiting her sister’s grave.
Egypt: Yomeddine (Abu Bakr Shawky)
Shawky’s film played in Competition at Cannes 2018, and took home the François Chalais prize (dedicated to the values of life affirmation and journalism). Wild Bunch handles sales on the title. It centres an Egyptian leper and orphan boy who travel to the leper’s hometown in an attempt to find his family. This is Egypt’s 33rd foreign language submission, and would be their first nomination.
Morocco: Burnout (Nour Eddine Lakhmari)
Lakhmari’s film takes in several perspectives from Morocco’s largest city Casablanca, including a medical student confronting a privileged customer; Jaguar-driving Jad and his unhappy wife Ines; and poor shoe shop boy Ayoub. The film premiered in 2017 and has played festivals including Dubai. This is Morocco’s 14th Oscar submission; their best result to date was in 2012, when Roschdy Zem’s Omar Killed Me made the January shortlist.
Tunisia: Beauty And The Dogs (Kaouther Ben Hania)
After a Cannes 2017 debut in Un Certain Regard, Beauty And The Dogs was the unanimous choice of the eight-person selection committee, led by Tunisia’s Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image. It centres a student who, after being brutally raped by policemen, has to fight for her basic legals rights. Screen’s review called it ’a forthright and accomplished film which deals with its controversial subject matter without flinching’. The film is Tunisia’s fifth Oscar submission (although Leyla Bouzid’s As I Open My Eyes was not included on the Academy’s final list of submissions for the 2017 awards); the country is still waiting on a first nomination.
Bolivia: Muralla (Rodrigo Patiño)
Patiño’s film represents Bolivia’s tenth attempt to impress the Oscar voters (although efforts for the 2006 and 2008 awards were disqualified and did not make the submissions list). It tells the story of Coco ‘Muralla’ Rivera, a former footballer who must find the money to give his sick son the organ transplant he requires. It was released in Bolivia in September 2018.
Brazil: The Great Mystical Circus (Carlos Diegues)
This Cannes 2018 special screening follows the trials and tribulations of Austrian family the Knieps, across 100 years and five generations. The enduring Diegues has worked extensively as an associate producer in recent years; this is his first directorial effort since 2013 documentary Rio De Fé. The Great Mystical Circus marks his seventh time representing Brazil in the foreign language category, the first coming in 1976 with Xica and the most recent in 1999 with Orfeu. He is yet to be nominated for the main award; Brazil has four nominations, including three in four years from 1996-1999, but is also still without a golden man.
Chile: And Suddenly The Dawn (Silvio Caiozzi)
Chile comes into this year’s awards as the current holder, after Sebastián Lelio took the prize last year for A Fantastic Woman. That is the country’s only win from 22 previous submissions, with one other nomination in 2013 for Pablo Larraín’s No. Caiozzi’s first feature since 2004’s Cachimba is the 195-minute story of an old writer (Julio Jung) who returns to his native Patagonia. It won the Americas Grand Prix at 2018’s Montréal World Film Festival.
Colombia: Birds Of Passage (Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra)
A saga tracing the birth of the narcotrafficking industry which gutted Columbian society, Gallego and Guerra’s film opened Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 2018. The pair received Colombia’s only Oscar nomination in the category from 26 previous submissions in 2015, for breakout hit Embrace Of The Serpent (with Guerra directing, Gallego producing). Guerra also directed previous Colombian submissions Wandering Shadows (2005) and The Wind Journeys (2009).
Dominican Republic: Cocote (Nelson Carlo de los Santos)
de los Santos’ directorial debut is set around a funeral, and combines documentary with drama, looking at the battle between two religious identities. The title is a Dominican slang word for the soon-to-be-broken neck of an animal. The film has played around the festival circuit; first at Locarno in 2017 where it won best film in the Signs of Life section, then subsequently at locations including Toronto and San Sebastian. It is the 11th Dominican submission to the award, and would be the first nomination.
Ecuador: A Son Of Man (Luis Felipe Fernandez-Salvador, Pablo Agüero)
Produced by Paracas Independent Films, A Son Of Man was shot on locations across the Ecuadorian jungle, using only drone cameras. It has been ten years in the making for director Fernandez-Salvador (who also goes by the name Jamaicanoproblem) and his producer and wife Lily Van Ghemen. The story follows Pipe, a teenager from Minneapolis, who joins his father on a treasure hunt for gold in treacherous - but beautiful - Ecuadorian rainforest. This is Ecuador’s seventh foreign language award submission, with no previous nominations.
Mexico: ROMA (Alfonso Cuarón)
Cuarón’s latest premiered to glowing reviews in Venice; Screen‘s critic called it ’his most personal film, and his most honest. It may even be his best’. The story is a semi-autobiographical take on Cuarón’s Mexico City upbringing, focusing on a middle-class family and their live-in housekeeper. ROMA is Mexico’s 51st submission to the foreign language award. The country achieved four nominations between 2001 and 2011, including two for Alejandro González Iñárritu; Guillermo del Toro, the third member of the famed ‘Three Amigos’, directed 1994 awards submission Chronos and was nominated in 2007 for Pan’s Labryinth. This is Cuarón’s first nomination in this category, although he has been nominated for six Oscars previously, winning best director and best editing for Gravity in 2014. His son Jonás’ film Desierto was Mexico’s submission two years ago. Read the full story here.
Panama: Ruben Blades Is Not My Name (Abner Benaim)
Benaim also directed Panama’s first foreign language award submission Invasion, which was entered for the 2015 ceremony. The country’s four entries to date (not including this year) are yet to yield a nomination. Ruben Blades may represent their best shot to date: the documentary studies salsa musician Blades, who has won 17 Grammy awards and ran for president of his native Panama in 1994. The film took home the audience award at SXSW 2018.
Paraguay: The Heiresses (Marcelo Martinessi)
This is only Paraguay’s third submission to the foreign language Oscar prize, after Arami Ullon’s Cloudy Times in 2015 and Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schembori’s The Gold Seekers last year. The Heiresses premiered in Berlin in 2018, and received three awards there: the Silver Bear for best actress for Ana Brun, the FIPRESCI prize and the Alfred Bauer prize for a debut film. It has since picked up multiple other awards on the circuit, including at Transilvania and Sydney film festivals. It centres fifty-something Chela (Brun), who must learn to cope on her own when life partner Chiquita is imprisoned for fraud.
Peru: Eternity (Oscar Catacora)
With dialogue spoken entirely in the Aymara dialect - a language native to the Andes region - Catacora’s feature debut depicts an elderly indigenous couple in the mountains, who wait for their son to come and visit them. It was released in April 2018, and chosen for the Oscars by the country’s 16-strong panel of industry figures. Awards already received include best film and best cinematography from Mexico’s Guadalajara Film Festival. Peru has one nomination from 24 previous submissions, for Claudia Llosa’s The Milk Of Sorrow in 2010.
Venezuela: The Family (Gustavo Rondón Córdova)
The Family is Córdova’s feature debut after an extensive shorts career. The film, which looks at the relationship between a father and son in a violent blue-collar Caracas neighbourhood, premiered in Critics’ Week at Cannes 2017, before a festival run that took in Jerusalem, San Sebastian and prizes at Miami Film Festival. A place on the January shortlist for The Liberator in 2014 is the closest Venezuela has come to foreign-language Oscar glory, from 28 submissions since 1978.
Cambodia: Graves Without A Name (Rithy Panh)
Cambodia’s submission comes fresh from opening Venice Days in late August, before heading to Toronto in TIFF Docs. It is a documentary exploring the lasting effects of the Cambodian genocide, in which a 13-year old boy who loses most of his family begins a search for their graves. Cambodia’s six previous Oscar submissions include two from Panh (their first, Rice People, for the 1995 awards, and The Missing Picture which was nominated in 2014), as well as Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father last year, which covers the Khmer Rouge regime in the shape of a historical thriller.
Iraq: The Journey (Mohamed Al-Daradji)
Set entirely around a Baghdad train station on one night in December 2006, Al-Daradji’s film is a drama about a female suicide bomber, and premiered at Toronto in 2017. The director’s fifth feature marks the third time he has been selected for Oscar consideration, after Dreams for 2007 and Son Of Babylon for 2011. This year sees Iraq’s ninth submission to the foreign language prize, and the country is yet to receive a nomination.
Iran: No Date, No Signature (Vahid Jalilvand)
Forensic pathologist Dr Nariman (Amir Aghaee) is involved in a collision that injures an 8-year old boy. His offers of assistance are rebuffed; but then the boy is brought in for an autopsy after a suspicious death. Jalivand won best director in Horizons at Venice 2017, with Navid Mohammadzadeh, who plays the boy’s father, taking the best actor prize. Asghar Farhadi has picked up two Oscars in the last 6 years in this category, for A Separation in 2012 and The Salesman in 2017. The country has one other nomination from 23 total submissions, for Majid Majidi’s Children Of Heaven in 1999. Farhadi’s Cannes opener Everybody Knows was not eligible for Iranian selection, as a Spanish production.
Israel: The Cakemaker (Ofir Raul Grazier)
Grazier’s debut centres a German pastry maker who travels to Jerusalem in search of the wife and son of his dead lover, and stars Sarah Adler, Tim Kalkhof, Zohar Strauss and Roy Miller. It premiered at Karlovy Vary in 2017, before going on to screen at festivals including London and Hamburg. It has already won prizes including the Ecumenical Jury award at Karlovy Vary, and six prizes at Israel’s Ophir awards including best film, the winner of which is typically Israel’s entry in this category. This is Israel’s 51st submission to the award; the country has received ten nominations but is yet to win.
Japan: Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
Kore-eda’s story of a family living on its wits won the Palme d’Or amongst strong competition in May; it follows 2017’s Palme winner The Square (an eventual Oscar nominee) into the foreign-language award process. Kore-eda told Screen he was looking to explore what ties a family together through the film: ’Is it blood or the time you spend together?’. Japan has had 12 nominees for this award, with one win for the most recent, Departures, in 2008. Films from the country also received three honourary awards in 1951, 1954 and 1955, before the foreign-language award became a competitive category.
Pakistan: Cake (Asim Abbasi)
Cake is director Abbasi’s feature debut after shorts including Once A Man and Whore. Set in Pakistan’s biggest city Karachi, it sees a medical emergency bring siblings Zara and Zain back to their homeland from abroad, where they reunite with Zareen, the sister who stayed behind. Pakistan’s first of eight Oscar submissions came for the 1960 awards, although they did not submit for 50 years between 1964 and 2014. The country is yet to receive a shortlisting or nomination.
Palestine: Ghost Hunting (Raed Andoni)
Andoni’s documentary sees him recreate traumatic experiences in an Israeli detention centre, with released prisoners reliving their incarceration and torture by Israeli occupiers. It had its world premiere at Berlin Film Festival in 2017, and has since played at festivals including the UK’s Sheffield Doc/Fest, Moscow International Film Festival and Denmark’s CPH:DOX. Palestine has two previous nominations in the category from ten submissions, for Paradise Now in 2006 and Omar in 2014.
Singapore: Buffalo Boys (Mike Wiluan)
Set in the 19th century on the Indonesian island of Java, Buffalo Boys is a western following two brothers who return to the territory after exile in America, to avenge their father. The film premiered at Canada’s Fantasia International Film Festival in July 2018, before a release in Indonesia that month and Singapore in September. Director Wiluan is a co-producer on recent hit Crazy Rich Asians. Singapore has no nominations from 11 previous submissions in the category.
South Korea: Burning (Lee Chang-dong)
Lee’s Cannes Competition title set the record score on Screen’s jury grid in May, acheiving a 3.8 out of 4 average. The film is based on Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning, and follows the relationship between three young Koreans. Screen’s review described it as ’quietly devastating…a film of wondrous complexity and inscrutability’. South Korea has submitted 29 films for the foreign language film award, but is yet to see a title nominated or shortlisted. Read the full story here.
Taiwan: The Great Buddha+ (Huang Hsin-yao)
Huang’s first fiction feature film has been a hit on the festival circuit since its June 2017 launch at Taipei Film Festival, winning awards at Toronto 2017, Munich and the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2018, as well as five 2017 Taiwanese Golden Horse awards including best new director. It follows Pickle and Belly Bottom, two friends in the lower echelons of Taiwanese society, who stumble upon a violent crime. This is Taiwan’s 44th Oscar submission; the high point came in 2001 when Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon took the prize, while Lee also achieved nominations for The Wedding Banquet in 1994 and Eat Drink Man Woman in 1995.
Thailand: Malila: The Farewell Flower (Anucha Boonyawatana)
This is Thailand’s 25th Oscar submission, with their first coming for the 1985 awards. It would be their first nomination or shortlisting of any kind. Boonyawatana’s film debuted at Busan International Film Festival in October 2017, before playing the festival circuit in Asia including at Hong Kong Asian Film Festival and Singapore, where it won a best director prize. The film follows a terminally-ill cancer patient who is contemplating his mortality. Screen’s review wrote that Boonyawatana ’not only follows confidently and elegantly in [Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s] footsteps, but makes her own lasting imprint.’