By Susan Kandell Wilkofsky
I thought I’d try something a little different this week and give a brief synopsis of the contenders for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards. Unfortunately, Israel’s submission “The Cakemaker,” the bold drama focused on a German-Israeli love triangle, was eliminated by the Academy in the first round of cuts. ‘Tis a shame! I think it could have been a contender.
The five finalists are listed below in no particular order.
“Roma” from Mexico, which was written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón (“Gravity,” “Y Tu Mamá También”), is thought to be the front-runner in this category after winning Best Picture and Best Director at the Golden Globes. And it picked up nominations for 10 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Foreign Film. That’s quite an accomplishment!
Taking place in Mexico City in the early 1970s and set in a middle-class neighborhood, the film is centered on the domestic servant of a doctor’s family. It’s a very realistic portrait of her increasing responsibility as she cares for the family’s children amid domestic strife and political upheaval. This very personal film shot in glorious black-and-white is really quite powerful, although it could have been a wee bit shorter as it clocks in at two hours and 15 minutes.
But “Roma” doesn’t register the longest screen time of the five nominees. That award would go to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s psychological drama “Never Look Away,” Germany’s entry for Best Foreign Film. At three hours and eight minutes, the film covers a long expanse of time as a young artist escapes to West Germany, still tormented by his childhood under the Nazis and the GDR-regime.
“Shoplifters,” from Japan and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, was last year’s winner of the Cannes Film Festival Palme D’Or. It depicts a dysfunctional, loosely gathered family of petty thieves and grifters living below the poverty level. The family is upended when the young son is arrested and secrets are revealed. What defines this family? The power of love and not blood will test the bonds that bind them together.
“Capernaum” (Chaos), the Lebanese entry for Best Foreign Language Film, directed by Nadine Labaki, packs a powerful punch and will most certainly give “Roma” a run for its money. The winner of the Jury Prize at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, “Capernaum” tells the heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting story of Zain, a young Lebanese boy who sues his parents for the “crime” of giving him life. Existing on the margins of society, he flees his negligent parents and survives on the streets using only his preternatural wits for protection. The film manages to weave a heart-wrenching tale with a thread of optimism. It is, in a word…stunning!
“Cold War,” Poland’s entry this year, was directed by Paweł Pawlikowski, who is back with another commanding film (remember “Ida”?) — this time an impossible love story set against the backdrop of the Cold War in the 1950s in Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris. A music director falls in love with a singer and tries to persuade her to flee communist Poland. Like “Roma,” it was shot in black-and-white and, at 88 minutes, captures your attention both visually and musically. Besides being nominated for Best Foreign Film, “Cold War” has picked up a Best Cinematography nomination and a Best Director nod for Pawlikowski. All well-deserved!
So there it is. Who will you root for? Well, first, you can try and see as many as you can before the Oscars are televised on Feb. 24. Below is a listing of where they can be screened. Four of the five are available locally.