Though predictions from various sectors point to a first win by Iran in the Oscar Award’s best foreign language film category late this month, it is just fair and prudent that the four other nominees be presented and given due credit.
The films trying to upset the heavily favored A Separation by Ashghar Farhadi are the following: Bullhead by Michael R. Roskam (Belgium); Monsieur Lazhar by Philippe Falardeau (Canada); Footnote by Joseph Cedar (Israel); and In Darkness by Agnieszka Holland (Poland).
Bullhead is a 128-minute film in Dutch and French, produced by Savage Film and distributed by Kinepolis Film Distribution.
It tells the story of a young Limburg cattle rancher, Jacky Vanmarsenille (played by Mattias Schonaerts) who is approached by an unscrupulous veterinarian who forces him to deal with a notorious West Flemish beef trader. Their shady plan is aborted by the assassination of a federal policeman. Confounding this is Jacky’s unexpected confrontation with a mysterious secret from his past. This triggers a chain of events with calamitous consequences.
Bullhead was selected for the panorama section of the 61st Berlin International Film Festival. It premiered in the U.S. at the Austin Fantastic Fest in Austin. Drafthouse Films acquired the rights to distribute the film in the U.S. where it opened its theatrical run last Feb. 17 on a limited release.
The film garnered the New Author’s Audience Award and the New Author’s Critic’s Prize for best actor at the AFI Fest. It won the Next Wave Award at the Austin Fantastic Fest. Schoenaerts won the FIPRESCI Award for best actor at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and also won the Best Film Award at the Ostend Film Festival.
Monsieur Lazhar is a 94-minute film based on a one-character play by Evelyne de la Cheneliere.
Wikipedia encapsulizes the film’s plot this way: “In Montreal, an elementary school teacher kills herself. Bachir Lazhar, an Algerian immigrant, is quickly hired to replace her while he is experiencing a personal tragedy of his own. His wife, who was a writer, died with their daughter and son in a criminal arson attack by targets (along with their associates) of the last book she wrote dealing with the social and economic short-comings in present-day Algeria. He gets to know his students despite the cultural gap that is evident from the very first lesson. As the class tries to move on from their former teacher’s suicide, nobody at the school is aware of Bachir’s painful past, who could be deported a any time given his status as a refugee.”
The film has won the Best Canadian Feature Film award at the Toronto International Film Festival and was a shortlisted nominee for best picture at the 2012 Genie Awards.
Footnote is a 107-minute film produced by the United King Films Movie Plus and distributed in the U.S. by United King Films. It received support from the Israel Film Fund, Jerusalem Film Fund and the AVICHAI Foundation.
Here is Wikipedia’s notes on the plot summary of the film: Footnote is a tragicomedy featuring a complicated father-son relationship. Eliezer and Uriel Shkolnik are brilliant scholars and academics who share the same field of study at the Tal-mud department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. However, the son receives honors and accolades and recognition from his peers, overshadowing his father.
The film marked the return to cinema after 20 years by Shlomo Bar Aba, a stage comedian, who played the father. Lior Ashkenazi, who played the son, was raised in a secular home, took Talmud classes at the Hebrew University and let his beard grow for eight months. It premiered in competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival last May, winning the best screenplay award. It was released in Israel on June 2, 2011. The North American distribution rights were acquired by Sony Pictures Classics.
Hannah Brown of the Jerusalem Post wrote: “Cedar uses dramatic cinematography, music and visual effects to signal that this is a film about an earth-shaking battle, at least in its protagonists’ hearts and minds.”
Director Cedar explained why he chose to make a film that focuses on the Talmud department of the Hebrew University: “It is the smallest department in the university, but it is famous worldwide for its uncompromising methods and its unforgiving attitude toward the notion of “mistake”. Once I started hearing stories from within this department, about mythological rivalries between scholars, stubbornness on an epic scale, eccentric professors who live with an academic mission that is bigger than life itself, even if its topic is radically esoteric, I fell in love with them all and they became the center of this story.”
In darkness is a 144-minute film written by David F. Shamoon based on In the Sewers of Lvov by Robert Marshall. It was based on a true incident in German Nazi-occupied Poland and dedicated to Marek Edelman.
Wikipedia writes about the film’s synopsis: “As the Nazi began the deportation of the City of Lvov’s Jewish population, a group of people sought refuge in the city’s sewers. With a local sewer inspector who moonlighted as a thief serving as their only link to the outside world, the group faced the seemingly impossible task of creating a subterranean hiding place that will protect them for the duration of the war.”
Director Holland won the best director award at the Valladolid international Film Festival. It was also the first full-length film shown at the 23rd Polish Film Festival in America held in Chicago on the opening night gala.
Your FEEDBACK can be posted at www.filmacademyphil.org/forum/