The 63 films vying in the best foreign language film category of the 84th Oscar Awards scheduled in March next year will be further trimmed down to a shortlist of eight or nine possible nominees in late January.
The country’s entry—Ang Babae sa Septic Tank, starring Eugene Domingo and directed by Marlon Rivera—is now fighting an uphill battle for what local cineastes or filmbuffs have been clamouring for in the last two decades or so: a first-ever nomination of a Filipino film in the best foreign language film category of the Oscar Awards.
But what are really the odds? Is our film entry capable of getting the approval of AMPAS voters to shove it into the shortlist of possible nominees? Or will it go the way of the many Filipino films that never made it to the pantheon of final nominees?
Sad to say, all that we can do is to review the past winners of the best foreign language film category…say the winners in this new century from 2000 to 2010.
Following is a run-through of the 11 best foreign language films from the onset of the 21st century up to the year 2010:
Taiwan’s 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.
Bosnia & Herzogovina’s 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.
Germany’s 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.
Canada’s 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.
France & Spain’s 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.
South Africa’s 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.
Germany’s 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.
Germany’s 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.
Japan’s 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.
Argentina’s 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.
Denmark’s In a Better World, directed by Susanne Bier and written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen. Its Danish title, Haevnen, means The Revenge. It is a family drama about a Danish doctor who works at an African refugee camp.
With this run-through, it is obvious that Germany is without doubt the decade’s best achiever, raking up three best foreign language film trophies. Winning one award each were Argentina, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Canada, Denmark, France and Spain, Japan, South Africa and Taiwan.
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