Nov 09
2008 AND 2009: THE DROUGHT CONTINUES by Jose N. Carreon  |  Posted in Articles  |  on Tue, Nov 9, 2010

Last of Five Parts

During the last two stagings of the Oscar Awards, the Philippines again tried and again failed to bag even a nomination in the prestigious best foreign language film category.

Let us refer to wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, to find out the winners and nominees in this category vis-à-vis our own entries. In this manner, we will be able to delineate the kinds or genres of film that might merit Oscar nomination.


In 2008, the country’s entry to the Oscar was Ploning, a Judy Ann Santos starrer directed by Dante Nico Garcia. The film was based on a Cuyunon folk song (Cuyo is a town in Palawan) about a woman’s unrequited love.

The film begins when a Taiwanese fisherman, Muo Sei, arrives in Cuyo to look for a certain Ploning (which will be played by Ms Santos in flashback). Ploning was a hardworking and thoughtful young woman who was known for her many good deeds to her family, townmates and foreign tourists. She even cared for a little boy, Digo. After 14 years, Ploning suddenly decided to look for her boyfriend Tomas and disappeared on the day of the town fiesta. She never returned. At film’s end, it is revealed that Muo Sei is the little boy Digo who was adopted by Taiwanese fisherfolks years ago.

The nominated films for the best foreign language film in 2008 were: The Baader Meinhof Complex (Germany); The Class (France); Departures (Japan); Revanche (Austria); and Waltz with Bashir (Israel).

The Baader Meinhof Complex, directed by Uli Edel, retells the story of the initial years of the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction), a West German militant group. It covers the years 1967 (at the time of the German student movement) up to the German Autumn of 1977. A son of a former president of an employers’ association assassinated by the RAF des-cribed the movie as a great film, which finally portrayed the RAF as what it actually was, “a merciless, ruthless gang of murderers”.

The Class, directed by Laurent Cantet, is based on a 2006 novel, Between the Walls by Francois Begaudeau about his experiences as a French language and literature teacher in an inner city middle school in Paris, principally his experiences with problem students. Covering one academic year, the film begins with the teachers gathering for the autumn term and ends with an informal game of football between faculty and students with the final SHOT a long hand-held frame of an empty classroom.

Revanche is directed by Gotz Spielman and is about Alex, a man obsessed with revenge when his girlfriend is shot by an off-duty cop, Robert, who chances on them robbing a bank. Alex soon meets Robert’s wife, Susanne, not knowing that the cop actually killed his girlfriend. Alex learns the truth and eventually initiates an affair with Susanne. But he is still hell-bent on exacting revenge on Robert. They finally meet each other in the forest and Alex realizes how Robert was tormented by his accidental killing of the woman robber. Alex gives up his plans and leaves. Susanne gets pregnant and finally learns that Alex was the boyfriend of the woman her husband had shot dead.

Waltz with Bashir is an animated documentary written and directed by Ari Folman. It depicts Folman’s search for his lost memories about the 1982 Lebanon War. Surprised to find that he does not remember anything from that war of 24 years ago, Folman converses with friends, a psychologist and a reporter to revive his memories and, thus, understand what happened in Beirut on the night of the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

But the best foreign language film for 2008 was Departures, directed by Yojiro Takita. It tells the story of Daigo Kobayashi, a cellist in Tokyo who loses his job when their orchestra is disbanded. With his wife, he goes back to his own hometown which he has avoided because of a life-long misunderstanding with his father. He applies for a job advertised as “assisting departures”. It turns out that the job involves ceremonially embalming the dead before they are placed in coffins. At film’s end, Daigo is informed that his father has died. When he sees the funeral workers handle his father’s body in a cavalier and unceremonious way, he takes over the job of embalming the old man. He is surprised to find a stone-letter he had given his father years ago still grasped in his father’s hand. He realizes his father has loved him through all these years. When he senses his wife beside him, he presses the stone-letter to her pregnant belly.


The country’s entry for the 2009 Oscar was Ded na si Lolo, directed by Soxie Topacio. It is a drama-comedy that revolves on the death of a patriarch while his five siblings emotionally try to upstage each other during the wake for the old man. The family mourners included Roderick Paulate, Gina Alajar, Eizabeth Oropesa, Manilyn Reynes and Dick Israel. A grandson of the old man (BJ Forbes) provides the point of view that literally captures the most of the time comic proceedings.

The five films nominated for the 2009 Oscar’s best foreign language film category were: Ajami (Israel); The Milk of Sorrow (Peru); A Prophet (France); The Secret in their Eyes (Argentina) and The White Ribbon (Germany).

Ajami, directed by Scandar Copti (a Palestinian native from Ajami) and Yaron Shani (a Jewish Israeli), was the third Israeli film nominated in the Oscar for three consecutive years. It deals with five different stories set in an actual impoverished Christian-and-Muslim-Arab neighborhood called Ajami in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa metropolis. The cast included non-professional actors than lend the film the feel of a documentary.

The Milk of Sorrow, directed by Claudia Llosa, depicts the plight and fears of abused women during the 1980-1992 period when Peru experienced extreme violence especially in the Andean region because of the uprising of the Maoist Shining Path rebels and the actions of the paramilitary and state armed forces. The directress refers to the folk superstition that raped victims channel their misfortune to their offsprings through the milk from their breasts.

A Prophet, directed by Jacques Audiard, is a film about a young French prisoner of North African descent, Malik El Djebena. While in prison, a Corsican mafia group places Malik under its protection and sends him for out-of-prison missions. When his friend Ryad is released from prison and gets in trouble outside, Malik is allowed to go outside to rescue his friend. Malik finally comes out from the Corsican mafia’s protective wings and waits for his release from prison by siding with the Muslim inmates. Finally released, he is welcomed outside by Ryad’s widow and their son.

The White Ribbon is directed by Michael Haneke and tells the story of
a family in a northern German village just before World War I. The film covers the period from July 1913 to August 1914 and takes place in a Protestant village where a pastor, a doctor and a baron rule. Pubescent children are forced to wear white ribbons for committing trivial offenses as a reminder of the innocence and purity from which they strayed. The film ends at the time of the declaration of war on Serbia by Austria-Hungary.

But the 2009 best foreign language film trophy was awarded to The Secret in their Eyes, directed by Juan Jose Campanella based on the novel of Eduardo Sacheri, La Pregunta de Sus Ojos (The Question in their Eyes). The film centers on a retired criminal court- official, Benjamin Esposito, who, in 1999, decides to write a novel based on the rape-murder case of a beautiful young wife which he investigated in 1974. It is revealed in flashback that Benjamin was in love with Irene, his immediate superior and secretary of the court. Helping the bereaved husband, Ricardo Morales, Benjamin zeroed in on the right suspect, Gomez. They never got their suspect. After finishing his novel, Benjamin visits Morales who finally confesses to him he already killed Gomez as far back as 1975. Benjamin doubts the old man’s story and sneaks back into the house where he discovers that Morales has actually imprisoned Gomez in a makeshift jail where he was chained for 24 years. Morales tells Benjamin that instead of a death sentence, he believes that the boredom of a meaningless life in jail to be the true justice. Benjamin visit the love of his life Irene at film’s end.

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