In a Better World, directed by Susanne Bier and written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, won the best foreign language film trophy in the 83rd Oscar Awards, the first in the new decade of the 2010s.
The film also recently won the Golden Globe award for best foreign film and, on its way to the Oscars, also garnered trophies in international film festivals in Rome, Sevilla, Tallinn and Thessaloniki.
Its Danish title, Haevnen, means The Revenge. A family drama about a Danish doctor who works at an African refugee camp, the film is the third film from Denmark to top the Oscar’s tough best foreign language film competition. The country won consecutive Oscar trophies in 1987 and 1988 for Babette’s Feast by Gabriel Axel and Pelle the Conqueror by Bille August.
In the history of the Oscars, Denmark also chalked up nominations for five other films, the last of which was also directed by Directress Bier, After the Wedding, in 2006.
In a Better World outvoted four other films, namely, Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi), directed by Rachid Bouchareb/Algeria; Incendies, directed by Denis Villeneuve/Canada; Dogtooth (Kynodontas), directed by YorgosLanthimos/Greece; and Biutiful, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu/Mexico.
Another competitive year has flickered off and for those local cineastes or filmbuffs clamouring for a first-ever nomination of a Filipino film in the best foreign language film category of the Oscar Awards, the task begins anew.
How can we break into that elusive circle of nominees? For a starter, let us review the Oscar’s best foreign language film winners for the decade of 2000 to 2009 and pick up from there. As we have stated earlier, In a Better World is the first winner of this present new decade of the 2010s.
Following is a run-through of the 10 best foreign language films from the onset of the 21st century up to the year 2009:
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a film in wuxia martial arts style directed by Ang Lee. The cast includes now international film luminaries Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi.
No Man’s Land, a tragic-comedy war drama set in the midst of the Bosnian War directed by Danis Tanovic. It focuses on three wounded soldiers trapped in a trench, one of them with a land mine buried beneath him. Two of the soldiers who are bitter enemies are rescued while the third cannot be moved and eventually is blown up which the rescue team keeps a secret.
Nowhere in Africa, a German film directed by Caroline Link, based on an autobiographical novel by Stefani Zweig, which tells the story of a Jewish family that emigrated to Kenya during World War II to escape the Nazis and run a farm but were rounded up by the British for being German citizens.
The Barbarian Invasions, a French-Canadian comedy-drama directed by Denys Arcand. It is a sequel to Arcand’s earlier film, The Decline of the American Empire. The plot revolves around a father’s battle with terminal cancer and the efforts of his estranged son to make his dying father more comfortable in his last days. The son brings his old man to Vermont to receive medical care and reunites kin and friends for his father’s pleasure.
The Sea Inside of Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar. It is the true-to-life story of a Spanish ship mechanic who was left a quadriplegic after a diving accident and his 28-year-campaign to justify euthanasia to uphold his right to end his own life. The court ruled against him but he ended his life by drinking cyanide. Despite his death wish, he taught everyone he encountered in his 28 years being bed-ridden the true meaning and value of life.
Tsotsi, written and directed by Gavin Hood adapted from the novel Tsotsi by Athol Fugard. Set in a Soweto slum community, near Johannesburg, the film tells the story of Tsotsi, a young street thug who steals a car only to discover a baby in the backseat.
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, but later made sure that the playwright get off the hook. 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.
The Counterfeiters, directed by Stefan Ruzowitsky, 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 begins after the end of World War II in Monte Carlo where Salomon Sorowitsch gambled with plenty of cash but was revealed 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 who was used by the Nazis for the destabilization plots.
Departures, directed by Yojiro Takita, 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 which involves ceremonially embalming the dead before they are placed in coffins. Ironically at film’s end, Daigo has the task of embalming his own father. He is surprised to find a stone-letter he had given his father years ago still grasped in the dead man’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 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. Helping the bereaved husband, Ricardo Morales, Benjamin zeroed in on the right suspect, Gomez, but never got the suspect. 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.
With this run-through, let us now tick off the best-performing countries in the best foreign language film category of the Oscars in the past decade. We also referred to the list of nominations for the years we just encapsulized.
Germany is without doubt the decade’s best achiever, raking up three best foreign language film trophies and adding nominations for four other films. The best films were Nowhere in Africa (2002), The Lives of Others (2006) and The Counterfeiters (2007). Germany’s four other nominated films were Germany (2004), Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005), The Bauder Meinhoff Complex (2008) and The White Ribbon (2009).
France accounted for a best film and six nominations. Its best film was a co-production with Spain, The Sea Inside (2004). The six films nominated included The Taste of Others (2000), Amelie (2001), The Chorus (2004), Joyeux Noel (2005), The Class (2008) and A Prophet (2009).
Canada won the best film in 2003 for The Barbarian Invasions and scored a nomination for Water (2006).
Three other countries won one best film award and a nomination each. These were: South Africa with 2005 best film Tsotsi (and 2004 nominated Yesterday); Japan with 2008 best film Departures (and 2003 nominated The Twilight Samurai); and Argentina with 2009 best film The Secret in Their Eyes (and 2001 nominated Son of the Bible).
Two other countries rounded up the best film winners with a trophy each—Taiwan with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Bosnia & Herzegovina with No Man’s Land (2001).
Though they did not win a best film trophy for the past decade, five other countries had impressive nomination records. These were:
Israel—Beaufort (2007), Waltz with Bashir (2008) and Ajami (2009)
Mexico—Amores Perros (2000), The Crime of Father Amaro (2002) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Czech Republic—Divided We Fall (2000) and Zelary (2003)
Netherlands—Zus and Zo (2002) and Twin Sisters (2003)
Sweden—Evil (2003) and As It is in Heaven (2004)
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