In the latter half of the past decade—from 2005 to 2009—the Philippines as usual faced stiff competition in its still unfulfilled endeavour to get even just a nomination for the Oscar awards’ best foreign language film category.
That first ever nomination, it seems, must wait for the decade of the 2010s which has just begun.
In 2005, the country failed to submit an entry, apparently because of mis-communication between the Oscar people and the Film Academy of the Philippines.
But since the year 2006, however, the Philippines was able to submit an entry annually. To underscore the stiff competition from foreign films, let us comb through a year-by-year breakdown of the RP film entry and the five foreign language films that were nominated (including the eventual winner).
Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, directed by Auraeus Solito from the script of Michiko Yamamoto, was the country’s entry that year. It tells the story of a 12-year-old gay who lives with his father and brothers, all petty thieves, in a slum community. He falls for a young cop who comes to his rescue when the boy is molested by drunkards. Maximo Oliveros is, thus, torn between his love for the cop and his loyalty to his family when his father is killed by the cop’s superior officer. The film is described as a neo-realist tale of innocence and redemption amidst the poverty of Manila’s slums.
The five films that eventually vied for the Oscar were: After the Wedding (Denmark); Days of Glory (Algeria); The Lives of Others (Germany); Pan’s Labyrinth (Mexico); and Water (Canada).
After the Wedding, directed by Susanne Bier, tells the story of Jacob, a Danish managing an orphanage in India who cared for a young boy Pramod since his birth. After eight years, the orphanage was in danger of collapse and Jacob was able to get funding from a Danish company but he must fly to Denmark to get the financial assistance. He later found out that his benefactor was the husband of his former girlfriend whose young daughter was about to get married. During the wedding, Jacob realized that the bride is his real daughter. His benefactor later told him that Jacob must stay with his family since he was terminally ill and would die soon. Jacob returned to the orphanage and tried to convince Pramod to come with him to Denmark. The boy refused and Jacob returned to Denmark alone.
Days of Glory, directed by Rachid Bouchareb, tells the story of colonial North Africans (Algerians, Tunisians and Moroccans) who were recruited to the French army to liberate France of the Nazi occupation in World War II. The film focuses on the discriminatory treatment of the North African soldiers by the white French officers.
Pan’s Labyrinth, directed by Guillermo del Toro, is a fantasy film set in 1944, five years after the Spanish civil war. It follows a ten-year-old girl, Ofelia, as she went back and forth from the real world to a fantasy realm centered around a labyrinth and a mysterious faun creature. In the real world, Ofelia’s stepfather, the falangist Captain Vidal hunted the anarchists who fought the Fascist rulers. Ofelia met strange and magical creatures who led her to the trials of the old labyrinth garden.
Water is directed by Deepa Mehta and is set during the period of the British Indian Empire in 1938 as Mahatma Gandhi was on the ascendance. During this time, Hindi tradition allowed the marriage of young girls to older men. Young widows were brought to institutions in order to make amends for the sins from their previous lives which supposedly caused their husbands’ deaths. The story focuses on three widows—an eight-year-old and youngest widow, Chuyia; the second youngest widow, Kalyani, who was offered as a prostitute to customers across the river; and Shakuntala, the widow who fough for their rights. In the film’s climax, Shakuntala entrusted Chuyia to a man in the entourage of Gandhi to offer her a better life.
But the winner as best foreign language film in 2006 was The Lives of Others, the debut film of writer and director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Set in the year 1984, it tells the story of an East German secret police member of the STASI who was assigned to monitor the cultural scene of East Berlin. The STASI agent, Wiesler, tailed and investigated Dreyman, a playwright. Weisler realized that a central committee member was actually coveting the live-in actress girlfriend of the playwright. He could not turn in Dreyman but instead made sure that the playwright get off the hook until Weisler was demoted. After German reunification, Dreyman learned how Weisler had helped him and dedicated his new novel to the secret agent. Weisler eventually saw the book in a bookshelf store and was happily surprised to see the novel dedicated to him.
Donsol, written and directed by Adolfo Alix Jr., was the country’s entry in 2007. It is all about a summer love in the beautiful island of Donsol between a whaleshark guide, Daniel, and a mysterious but beautiful tourist, Teresa. But the main star of the movie is the whaleshark, called in local parlance as the butanding . The film tackles major issues like illegal fishing which might cause the extinction of the butanding. The film cast includes Sid Lucero as Daniel, Angel Aquino as Teresa, Cherie Gil, Bembol Roco and Jacklyn Jose.
The five films that vied for the Oscar were: 12 (Russia); Beaufort (Israel); The Counterfeiters (Germany); Katyn (Poland); and Mongol (Kazakhstan).
12 is directed by Nikita Mikhalhov and an adaptation of the play of Reginald Rose, Twelve Angry Men, and a remake of Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men. The film focuses on a jury trying a young Chechen boy for the murder of his stepfather, a Russian military officer. After one juror voted for acquittal, a review ensued. Finally, the foreman of the jury stated that he was sure that the boy is innocent but he could not vote for acquittal since the boy would be subsequently killed by the real criminals. The foreman was the last man to decide the boy’s fate.
Beaufort, directed by Joseph Cedar, is set in the year 2000, the year of the Israeli withdrawal from the Israeli Security Zone in Southern Lebanon. Chronicling the routine of Israeli soldiers manning the 12th century Crusader stronghold of Beaufort castle, the film explores the moral dilemmas of the soldiers preceding the withdrawal and end of the 18-year South Lebanon conflict. The film was shot during the spring of 2006 and was competed in June, just a month before the second war in Lebanon broke out.
Katyn, directed by Andrzej Wajda, is about the mass execution of Polish prisoner of wars ordered by Soviet authorities in 1940. Some 22,000 victims were murdered in the Katyn forest, two prison strongholds and elsewhere. The events in the film are related through the points of view of the mothers, wives and daughters of the victims executed on Stalin’s orders. The film includes excerpts from German newsreels presenting the massacre as a Soviet crime and excerpts from Soviet newsreels present-ing the massacre as a German crime.
Mongol, directed by Sergei Bodrov, is based on the life of Temujin, the young Genghis Khan. It is the first in a trilogy about the life of Genghis Khan. The film is an epic story of the young Temujin and how events in his early life led him to become a legendary conqueror.The film ends with Temujin beng named khan of all Mongols, the Genghis Khan.
But the winner of the best foreign language film for 2007 was The Counterfeiters, directed by Stefan Ruzowitsky, which fictionalizes Operation Bernhard, a secret plan of the Nazis during World War II to destabilize the United Kingdom by flooding its economy with forged Bank of England currency. The film was based on a memoir written by Adolf Burger, a Jewish Slovak typographer who was imprisoned in 1942 for forging baptismal certificates to save Jews from deportation and was later imprisoned and forced to work on Operation Bernhard. The film begins after the end of World War II in Monte Carlo where Salomon Sorowitsch gambled with plenty of cash thus attracting a beautiful French woman. She later discovered numerals on his arm which revealed him as a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. The film then shifts to a flashback to Berlin in 1936 where Salomon was revealed as a successful forger of currency and passports and caught by the police. In prison, he was used by the Nazis for the destabilization plots.
(Next week: the final years of 2008 and 2009—the RP entries, the nominees and the winners)