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HomeAwardsA Complex Mix at the Foreign Language Film Symposium

A Complex Mix at the Foreign Language Film Symposium

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The Academy’s 2011 Foreign Language Film Award Symposium at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater brought together an interesting group of directors from five countries on the bright sunny Saturday morning the day before the Academy Awards. This year’s nominees are Biutiful, Alejandro González Iñárritu, (Mexico); Dogtooth, Yorgos Lanthimos, (Greece); In a Better World, Susanne Bier, (Denmark); Incendies, Denis Villeneuve, (Canada), and “Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi), Rachid Bouchareb, (Algeria).

Selected by the Foreign Language Film Award Committee from a pool of 66 of the best films from 66 countries, the five movies competing for one of global cinema’s most coveted awards are a study in the complex and brazen. In fact, of the 66 movies in the running this year to be nominated, only one film was a comedy. All the others were grim and serious. The five films spotlighted in this category bear these characteristics.

The non-traditional choices of films nominated are a direct result of the committee’s new voting system, which now allows a small group of 20 select members to introduce three additional films to the pre-nomination shortlist of six films. From there the list is voted upon and reduced to five final nominees.

Biutiful has a petty criminal contemplating the realities of his two children’s future in the face of his own mortality. Biutiful was written with Javier Bardem in mind. Shot in chronological order in Barcelona over the course of five months, it is ultimately a picture of hope and love in a world of brokenness.

Dogtooth is a daring story of three children who have been held captive by their parents their entire lives, away from the rest of the world. It is an especially provocative examination into what family means. During the panel discussion, director Yorgos Lanthimos revealed that he had no family of his own and conceived of the film as he “thought about the concept of family.” The murkier aspects of the story involving incest and torture alarmed more than a few people. Mark Johnson, the Foreign Language Film Award Committee Chair and the moderator of the symposium mentioned that he received several e-mails from committee members voicing their objections over the nomination.

In a Better World explores the journey of two schoolboys who are involved in senseless violence and their relationship with their father, a doctor who holds to his idealism and believes in non-violence. Revenge and forgiveness are themes that are weaved into an astonishingly moving story. Director Susanne Bier, notable for her subscribing to the Dogme 95 manifesto, was nominated in this category for her 2006 film After the Wedding.

Incendies is the account of twins who travel to the Middle East to seek out the facts of their mother’s wartime experiences after her death. The Canadian story shot in the Middle East is brilliantly filled with tragedy and grace at the same time. “The most important thing is art,” director Denis Villeneuve stated about the film-making process.

Outside the Law follows three brothers as they strive to find their place in post-World War II Algeria. The second film of a sweeping family saga, with the first being Days of Glory (Indigenes), which was also nominated in this category in 2006, Outside the Law shows the difficulties of family dynamics in a world that is devastated by the effects of war. The third film is in the making and will track the journey of the same characters from 1962-2012.

This year’s selection is far from the safer, more halcyon choices of the erstwhile years. But the grittiness of the films from this year just adds to their appeal. All five directors worked extensively on the conception of the stories and co-wrote the scripts, except for Incendies, which originated as a four hour stage play produced at the National Arts Centre in Canada. The play was adapted for the screen by director Villeneuve who admired the play greatly.

There is a common thread running through all five films: an exploration of what family means. Johnson noted that “most of us are struggling and most of us are struggling in losing battles… in a dangerous and threatening world, it’s no surprise that the family gives us strength.” Certainly, this year’s nominees are not marked by traditional family units, but the idea of family and redemption are unveiled and defined and fought for in their own mysterious way in each film.

It will be interesting to see which of these five unconventional films will be awarded with one of global cinema’s most prestigious prizes.

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