Pulling extracts from Screen reviews and giving a taste of the breadth of subjects and style on offer, Mike Goodridge looks at a selection of the foreign-language films submitted to the Academy this year. There’s a 3D documentary, an animated film and a 276-minute Taiwanese epic among them

Foreign-language Oscar contenders: what Screen said…


Dir Bujar Alimani

“Inspired by a new law that allows sexual intercourse between married couples inside a prison in Tirana, when one of the couple is a convict, Bujar Alimani’s debut feature proposes an imaginary relationship between a man and a woman, each with a partner in jail, cut short by an amnesty which forces them back to the drudgery of their former life.”
Dan Fainaru, July 2011



Dir Karl Markovics

“A clean, precise and extremely well-fashioned rites-of-passage drama focusing on a 19 year old who cannot get along with the living and prefers instead to deal with the dead, Markovics’ film shows him in control of every aspect — from script through acting to superb cinematography — and should be not only a festival favourite but a potential crossover item for a respectable theatrical career.”
Dan Fainaru, July 2011



Dir Michael R Roskam

Bullhead is a disturbingly visceral male drama with a brooding central performance from Matthias Schoenaerts. It is a violent and complex work which requires the viewer to be completely engaged for 129 minutes as the intricacies of plot and character interact.”
Fionnuala Halligan, Feb 2011



Dir Jose Padilha

“A relentless, rollercoaster ride through South America’s mafia heartlands in which the lead character brings a touch of James Bond and Jack Bauer to the slums of Rio.”
Tom Phillips, Oct 2010


TILT (Bul)

Dir Viktor Chouchkov

Tilt is a lively, smartly made drama that sets its tale of young love and youthful hustle against the backdrop of the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe.”
John Hazelton, Oct 2011



Dir Philippe Falardeau

“Neat, crisp and antiseptic, this tale of a middle-aged Algerian refugee who takes a teaching job in a Canadian elementary school is the kind of recommended family entertainment ultimately bound to please parents more than their children.”
Dan Fainaru, Aug 2011


72 DAYS (Cro)

Dir Danilo Serbedzija

“Serbedzija senior, Kresimir Mikic and the rest of the cast carry off their roles with admirable gusto.”
John Hazelton, Nov 2011



Dir Tomas Lunak

“A resolutely grown-up full-length feature animation, ‘shot’ in black and white, Alois Nebel oozes Middle European mystery and malaise. Interleaving a shadowy revenge plot with a touching tale of middle-aged love, the film is a more sombre affair than the last adult European animated film to achieve widespread arthouse theatrical distribution — Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist.”
Lee Marshall, Oct 2011



Dir Ole Christian Madsen

“A likeable mainstream comedy set in Buenos Aires which pleasantly abandons romantic-comedy convention and nothing happens as you’d expect. Its crowd-pleaser nature could put off arthouse buyers looking for critic-friendly art movies, but it has a quirky sense of humour and unpredictable plot which could act in its favour, while the fish-out-of-water Argentina setting will resonate with any international viewer.”
Mike Goodridge, Sept 2011



Dir Aki Kaurismaki

“Taking on both the Gallic cinema tradition and a current French political issue, Kaurismaki works with a superb Franco-Finnish cast to bring us a typically modest but shining French-language gem that sees him magnificently back on form after the slight dip of 2006’s Lights In The Dusk.”
Jonathan Romney, May 2011


Dir Valérie Donzelli

“It sounds like a crazy risk: to make a film about a young couple whose baby is diagnosed as suffering from a brain tumour — and to make it funny and romantic, with musical interludes, so it plays like something Jacques Demy and Francois Truffaut might have cooked up together. But actor-director Valérie Donzelli’s second film after the micro-budget romantic comedy The Queen Of Hearts is a joy to watch.”
Lee Marshall, May 2011



Dir Otar Iosseliani

“Welcome to the private, whimsical world of Otar Iosseliani. Access permitted only for those who share his constant thirst for any liquid containing alcohol, the stronger the better, for his ironic outlook on the world around him and his immense sympathy for the human race, despite its countless shortcomings.”
Dan Fainaru, May 2010


PINA (Ger)

Dir Wim Wenders

“Billed as ‘the world’s first 3D arthouse film’, Wim Wenders’ tribute to the late German choreographer Pina Bausch proves that 3D and contemporary dance are made for each other. The stereography looks great, and makes an eloquent and exhilarating case for extending the remit of the 3D feature beyond animation and action blockbusters.”
Lee Marshall, Feb 2011


Attenberg (Gr)

Dir Athina Rachel Tsangari

“An intellectual exercise treating human beings as pawns to be moved on a chessboard, Attenberg is a keen attempt to look at the human race just as naturalist David Attenborough observes all the other species in nature.”
Dan Fainaru, Sept 2010



Dir Ann Hui

A Simple Life (Tao Jie) is a sentimental tribute paid by Hong Kong producer Roger Lee to the memory of the amah who served in his family for 60 years and five generations. This sincere, honest but not particularly original melodrama may do well on home ground, where the long list of celebrities guest-walking through it will most certainly give the audiences something to talk about.”
Dan Fainaru, Sept 2011



Dir Bela Tarr

“A film for anyone who feels that Samuel Beckett is just too flippant in his view of the human condition, Tarr’s latest is about as bleak as cinema gets. But in paring down his familiar long-take style to the barest bones, Tarr and regular collaborators Agnes Hranitzky, Laszlo Krasznahorkai and Fred Kelemen have come up with a gauntly beautiful, stripped-down quintessence of the director’s style.”
Jonathan Romney, Feb 2011



Dir Runar Runarsson

“It is an odd concept to construct a coming-of-age tale around a recently retired 67-year-old man, but writer-director Runar Runarsson’s moving and neatly made drama manages to do just that, driven by a powerful and nicely uncompassionate performance by Theodor Juliusson as a man who finds a reason to live at the most unlikely time in his life.”
Mark Adams, May 2011



Dir Asghar Farhadi

“A gripping moral and social drama set in present-day Iran, Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to the fine About Elly lifts the director to the front rank of contemporary world directors, and should be compulsive viewing for anyone wondering what has happened to Iranian cinema. It is compelling viewing for just about everybody, for that matter.”
Lee Marshall, Feb 2011



Dir Joseph Cedar

“Pungent, ironic and glib, Joseph Cedar’s follow up to his award-winning Beaufort is a smart, well-written and deftly executed confrontation between a father and son who may be more alike than they would choose to believe.”
Dan Fainaru, May 2011



Dir Emanuele Crialese

“[Crialese’s] unfussy approach is simply to tell a strong story in a way which, though it occasionally comes across as a little naive in its liberal simplification of the issue, wins through thanks to a Ken-Loach-like combination of heart-on-sleeve commitment and elegantly succinct dramatic structure.”
Lee Marshall, Sept 2011



Dir Kaneto Shindo

“At the ripe age of 98, Kaneto Shindo may still be a fresh-faced young writer-director compared with Manoel de Oliveira (now 100-plus and still going strong), but clearly age does not diminish his passions if the impressively staged drama Postcard is anything to go by. The film fairly bursts with anger and compassion as it dwells on the home lives of ordinary rural Japanese families towards the end of the Second World War.”
Mark Adams, Oct 2010



Dir Nadine Labaki

“Its resolutely upbeat and open-hearted approach to conflict resolution could see it win hearts on festival and arthouse circuits, and Labaki again proves herself capable of drawing the most natural performances from her actors.”
Fionnuala Halligan, May 2011



Dir Gerardo Naranjo

“The story of how easily one individual can surrender to the implacable demands of a corrupt culture is the basis of a compelling if overlong thriller that sheds some genuine insight into a country where the annual drug trade alone is estimated to be worth $25bn.”
Allan Hunter, May 2011



Dir Roschdy Zem

“Actor-director Roschdy Zem eschews a grand Zola-esque narrative for a tight, hard-hitting drama built on facts that were all over the French media.”
David D’Arcy, Sept 2011



Dir Anne Sewitsky

“Anne Sewitsky directs delicately, with an eye for signs of relationships faltering and for the space in which new attractions cannot be resisted.”
David D’Arcy, Jan 2011



Dir Agnieszka Holland

“Solid, well made and extremely well shot, it is a return to form of sorts for Holland, whose English- language work has never matched the strength
of her European films.”
Mike Goodridge, Sept 2011



Dir Marian Crisan

“Marian Crisan’s first feature film, coming from the production house identified with the films of Cristi Puiu and produced by Puiu’s spouse, Anca, takes Romanian neo-realism to new extremes in this tale of simple, decent people trying to do what they believe to be right despite laws and regulations that keep reminding them they can’t.”
Dan Fainaru, August 2010



Dir Dragan Bjelogrlic

“This conventional but enjoyable story about the ragtag Yugoslavia football team formed to play the first ever World Cup has something for everyone: sports, humour, romance, nostalgia, great period sets and costumes, and a solid ensemble cast of newcomers and veterans.”
Natasha Senjanovic, Sept 2011



Dir Eric Khoo

“Khoo presents a tender-hearted take on the artist’s life, bracketed by five of his stories, which are anything but tender: these are blistering, dark tales of post-war occupied Japan which still pack a tremendous punch.”
Fionnuala Halligan, May 2011


GYPSY (Slovak Rep)

Dir Martin Sulik

“A stylishly powerful drama driven by a series of nicely realistic performances and punctuated by moments of surreal humour, Martin Sulik’s Gypsy (Cigan) also offers a rare glimpse into the life and moral codes inside a poor Roma village in Slovakia.”
Mark Adams, July 2011



Dir Janez Burger

“An elegant exercise in classic European magical realism, Janez Burger’s Silent Sonata (which originally had the perhaps more intriguing title of Circus Fantasticus) is a beautifully shot musing on life amid conflict.”
Mark Adams, March 2011



Dir Oliver Hermanus

“An impressively controlled study of a macho Afrikaaner and the secret he hides from his family, his friends and himself, Beauty (Skoonheid) is a slow-paced but effective portrait of a kind of apartheid of the mind.”
Lee Marshall, May 2011



Dir Jang Hun

“Up-and-coming director Jang Hun delivers vivid action and an emphatic message in The Front Line (Gojijeon), a classically styled war drama.”
John Hazelton, Nov 2011



Dir Agusti Villaronga

“Agusti Villaronga’s moody and atmospheric tale of dark goings-on among peasants and village officials in post civil war Catalonia is an impressive piece of storytelling.”
Mark Adams, Sept 2010



Dir Pernilla August

“It would be easy to dismiss Swedish actress Pernilla August’s directorial debut, which premiered in Critics’ Week at Venice, as another piece of Scandinavian miserabilism. But this story of a grown-up daughter who is forced to confront the alcoholic mother with whom she had cut all ties is such a powerful drama, so grittily and convincingly carried by its faultless cast, that it is a piece of Scandinavian miserabilism for which we need to make a place.”
Lee Marshall, Sept 2010



Dir Wei Te-sheng

“Heads are chopped off with grim abandon in the epic Taiwanese film Warriors Of The Rainbow: Seediq Bale, an account of a violent uprising by aboriginal warriors against the Japanese who controlled the region. More bodies hit the ground than in any feelgood Rambo movie, and while flailingly unfocused in structure it is also a fascinatingly brutal history lesson.”
Mark Adams, Sept 2011



Dir Nuri Bilge Ceylan

“Way over two-and-a-half hours long, with the first 90 minutes unfolding in relative obscurity, this film proceeds at a slow, measured pace and tells a story that in anyone else’s hands would have barely been enough for a short. This is, however, a visually mesmerising piece of work. Its quiet, apparently placid, uneventful surface covers myriad themes which the attentive spectator should be only too happy to explore.”
Dan Fainaru, May 2011


The other foreign-language Oscar contenders

Argentina Aballay, Fernando Spiner

Bosnia & Herzegovina Belvedere, Ahmed Imamovic

Chile Violeta Went To Heaven, Andres Wood

China The Flowers Of War, Zhang Yimou

Colombia The Colours Of The Mountain, Carlos Cesar Arbelaez

Cuba Havanastation, Ian Padron

Dominican Republic Love Child, Leticia Tonos

Egypt Lust, Khaled El Hagar

Estonia Letters To Angel, Sulev Keedus

India Abu, Son Of Adam, Salim Ahamed

Indonesia Under The Protection Of Ka’Bah, Hanny R Saputra

Ireland As If I Am Not There, Juanita Wilson

Kazakhstan Returning To The A, Egor Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky

Lithuania Back To Your Arms, Kristijonas Vildziunas

Macedonia Punk’s Not Dead, Vladimir Blazevski

Netherlands Sonny Boy, Maria Peters

New Zealand The Orator, Tusi Tamasese

Peru October, Diego Vega and Daniel Vega

Philippines The Woman In The Septic Tank, Marlon N Rivera

Portugal Jose And Pilar, Miguel Goncalves Mendes

Russia Burnt By The Sun 2: The Citadel, Nikita Mikhalkov

Switzerland Summer Games, Rolando Colla

Thailand Kon Khon, Sarunyu Wongkrachang

United Kingdom Patagonia, Marc Evans

Uruguay The Silent House, Gustavo Hernandez

Venezuela The Rumble Of The Stones, Alejandro Bellame Palacios

Vietnam The Prince And The Pagoda Boy, Luu Trong Ninh