Jan 25
BACK TO SQUARE ONE by Jose N. Carreon  |  Posted in Articles  |  on Fri, Jan 25, 2013

Part 1

With Bwakaw—actually our twenty-third submission to the Oscar Awards best foreign language film category out of the final five nominees for this coming Awards night on February 24—we are back to square one. And we expect our local cineastes and filmbuffs to renew their clamor for that first-ever nomination or win of a Filipino film in this very competitive category.

Looking back, we realized that it has been a long wait. Our first submission was way back in the year 1956 with Anak Dalita by National Artist Lamberto Avellana. Our second submission came five years later, a film by another National Artist, Gerardo de Leon’s The Moises Padilla Story.

Intermittently in subsequent years, outstanding Filipino directors’ films were submitted. These were Luis Nepomuceno’s Dahil sa Isang Bulaklak (1967); National Artist Eddie Ropmero’s Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon? (1976); Marilou Diaz Abaya’s Karnal (1985); and National Artist Lino Brocka’s Bayan Ko…Kapit sa Patalim (1985).

Since 1995, we have been regularly submitting our film entries (except for 2005). But sad to say, the first win—or first nomination—was never achieved.

What we are actually trying to break into is the magic circle of one-time winners in this Oscar category. As of now, there are 12 one-time winners in the best foreign language film category. Austria is one of them and will most likely vault into the group of two-time winners on February 24 as its entry Amour is the overwhelming favorite to win this year.

It is interesting to note that six winners actually achieved their first win within the period 2001 to 2012.

Let us go through these 12 one-time winners and the films they got their Oscar trophies for (arranged chronologically):

Z, directed by Costa-Gavras

Based on the 1966 novel by Vassilis Vassilikos, Z is a fictionalized account of the events surrounding the assassination of democratic Greek politi-cian Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963. The film captures the outrage about the military dictatorship that ruled Greece at the time of its making. Z stars Jean-Louis Trintignant (who also appears in Amour) as the investigating magistrate.

Z is one of the few films to be nominated for both the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture.

At the time of its release, film critic Roger Ebert, who named Z the best film of 1969, liked the screenplay and its message, and wrote, “Z is a film of our time. It is about how even moral victories are corrupted. It will make you weep and will make you angry. It will tear your guts out…When the Army junta staged its coup in 1967, the right-wing generals and the police chief were cleared of all charges and ‘rehabilitated.’ Those responsible for unmasking the assassination now became political criminals. These would seem to be completely political events, but the young director Costa-Gavras has told them in a style that is almost unbearably exciting. Z is at the same time a political cry of rage and a brilliant suspense thriller. It even ends in a chase: Not through the streets but through a maze of facts, alibis and official corruption.”

1976/Ivory Coast
Black and White in Color, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud

Black and White in Color depicts French colonists at war with the Germans in the Ivory Coast during World War I. The film adopts a strong antimilitaristic point of view, and is noteworthy for ridiculing the French side even more harshly than their German counterparts.

It was submitted to the Academy by the Ivory Coast, resulting in that country’s first and only Oscar.

1979/West Germany
The Tin Drum, directed by Volker Schlondorff

The Tin Drum is a black comedy film adaptation of the novel of Günter Grass. The film won the Palme d’Or at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival jointly with Apocalypse Now of Dirctor Francis Ford Coppola. It was one of the most financially successful German films of the 1970s.

Mephisto, directed by Istvan Szabo

Mephisto is a film adaptation of Klaus Mann’s novel Mephisto, a co-production between companies in West Germany, Hungary and Austria. The film adapts the story of Mephistopheles and Doctor Faustus by having the main character Hendrik Höfgen abandon his conscience to ingratiate himself with the Nazi Party and keep and improve his job and social position.

The film’s over-riding irony is that the protagonist harbors the life-long dream to play Mephisto. To achieve this dream, he in effect sells his soul, and realises too late that in reality he is Faustus.

At the 1981 Cannes Film Festival, the film won the Best Screenplay Award and the FIPRESCI Prize.

Burnt by the Sun, directed by Nikita Mikhalkov

Burnt by the Sun depicts the story of a senior Red Army officer and his family during the Great Purge of the late 1930s in the Stalinist Soviet Union. The film takes place over the course of one day.

The film also received the Grand Prize at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival.

1996/Czech Republic
Kolya, directed by Jan Sverak

Kolya is a film aabout a man whose life is reshaped in an unexpected way. The film stars the director’s father Zdeněk Svěrák who also wrote the script from a story by Pavel Taussig.

The film begins in 1988 while the Soviet bloc is beginning to disintegrate. František Louka, a middle-aged Czech, is a concert cellist struggling to make out a living by playing funerals at the Prague crematorium. A friend offers him a chance to earn a great deal of money through a sham marriage to a Russian woman to enable her to stay in Czechoslovakia.

The woman then uses her Czechoslovak citizenship to emigrate and join her boyfriend in West Germany, leaving behind her Russian-speaking five-year-old son, Kolya, for the disgruntled Czech musician to look after.

At first Louka and Kolya have communication difficulties, but gradually, a bond forms between Louka and Kolya. The child suffers from suspected meningitis and has to be placed on a course of carefully monitored antibiotics. Louka is threatened with imprisonment for his suspect marriage and the child may be placed in a Russian children’s home. The Velvet Revolution intervenes though, and Kolya is reunited with his mother. Louka and Kolya say their goodbyes.

The film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

(Continued next week: The Six Other One-Time Winners)

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