Aug 09
KNOW THE PREVIOUS WINNERS AND BE GUIDED by Jose N. Carreon  |  Posted in Articles  |  on Tue, Aug 9, 2011

It is the time of year when a special committee in the Film Academy of the Philippines begins sifting through local films, preferably rated A or B by the Cinema Evaluation Board of the Film Development Council of the Philippines, for an annual purpose.

The committee’s efforts, which some local film enthusiasts dismiss this early as eventually futile, concern the selection of a local film—shown in commercial theaters from October, 2010 to September 2011—to be submitted as the country’s nominee for the best foreign language film category of the Oscar Awards.

In a sense, the task of achieving something impossible begins anew and that involves regaling our 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 question is asked for the nth time: How can we break into that elusive circle of nominees?

And the only sensible answer to that poser of a question is…Why don’t we just review the Oscar’s best foreign language film winners. Let’s say from 1995 to 2010.

Following is a run-through of the best foreign language films from 1995 to 2010:

Antonia’s Line, a film from the Netherlands directed by Marleen Gorris. Described by its director as a ‘feminist fairy tale’, the film spans 40 years starting just after World War II as an independent young woman takes over a family farm and gets involved in other humanist endeavors. The themes range from death and religion to sex, intimacy, lesbianism, friendship and love.

Kolya from Czechoslovakia, directed by Jan Sverak. The film opens in 1988 as the Soviet bloc begins to disintegrate. It is the story of a middle-aged bachelor who plays his cello during funerals at crematoria and ends up bonding with a five-year-old Russian boy, Kolya, who is left to his care when the boy’s mother left for Germany.

Character, a Dutch/ Belgian film directed by Mike van Diem from a best-selling novel. Set in the 1920s, it is the story of an ambitious young lawyer who was arrested for the killing of a bailiff who is his father. The film then explores the intense hatred between father and son as they literally make life hard for each other but at film’s end, it is revealed that the bailiff really committed suicide and actually left his considerable wealth to his son.

Life is Beautiful, an Italian film written and directed by Roberto Benigni which tells the story of a Jewish Italian (also played by Benigni) whose family (wife and son) are brought to a concentration camp. The dramatic efforts of the father to convince his young son that the camp is just a game and that life is really beautiful turn this into a film classic.

All About My Mother by renowned Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. The screenplay deals with complex issues such as AIDS, transvestitism, faith and existentialism. It centers on Manuela, a nurse who oversees donor organ transplants in a Madrid hospital and single mother to her teenaged son who dies in a car accident. She donates her son’s heart and embarks on a visit to see the father of his son who is a transvestite.

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, it 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.

In a Better World, directed by Susanne Bier and written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen. Its Danish title, Haevnen, means The Revenge. A family drama about a Danish doctor who works at an African refugee camp. In his two different worlds, the doctor and his family are faced with conflicts that lead them to difficult choices between revenge and forgiveness. The couple, who have two young sons, are struggling with the possibility of divorce. The elder son is being bullied at school until he is defended by a new classmate. The two new friends form a strong bond. But when one of the boys involves his new friend in a dangerous act of revenge, their friendship is tested and lives are put in danger.

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