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Foreign Language Nominees - The World on Screen

The short list for the Foreign Language Oscar category released today includes entries from nine countries: Belgium, Bosnia, Cambodia, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy and Palestine. Only two of those (the Italian and Danish films) are also represented in the five nominees for a Foreign Language Golden Globe. As representatives of press outlets from 50 countries worldwide, members of the Hollywood Foreign Press have always attached great value to the Foreign Film category. Not only are non-English language movies indicative of the intrinsically international nature of the film business and examples of global excellence, they are also windows into humanity in all its facets and idioms, contributing, as only art can, to further understanding between all people. This year’s nominees, chosen from an extraordinarily strong field of 58 eligible films from 48 countries, are Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie d’Adéle, Chapitres 1 et 2) from France, Italy’s The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza), the Danish film The Hunt (Jagten), The Past (Le Passé) from Iran and from Japan, The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu).

Unlike the Academy of Motion Pictures, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association does not have a special committee to select the Foreign Language nominees nor does it limit eligible films to those selected by their countries of origin. In part this is in recognition that today international co-productions have become the norm rather than the exception. Financing increasingly crosses borders, nor are films necessarily shot in the language of the originating country. For example, this year’s The Rocket from Australia tells the story of Laotian villagers and is shot entirely in the Lao language. The dialogue in the German submission, Two Lives, is spoken equally in German and Norwegian.

In the end, however, a good story well told transcends nationality and becomes universal like all great cinema, the quality that all the nominees share. Blue Is the Warmest Color by Abdellatif Kechiche tells the all-consuming love story between two young women (played by Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux). It's a film that has generated some controversy but whose ultimate strength lies in the truth it contains about the ineffable nature of passion. Another beautifully written and acted character is that played by Berenice Bejo in the French-Iranian co-production The Past. The film is director Asghar Farhadi’s follow up to his 2011 Golden Globe-winner A Separation and like that movie, is a brilliant exploration of failed love and the emotional aftermath of finished relationships.

Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt also investigates an emotional landscape, this one the harrowing turmoil that ensues when a kindergarten teacher is falsely accused of sexual impropriety, an incendiary allegation that threatens to rend an entire close-knit community. The leading role is brilliantly acted here by Mads Mikkelsen (familiar to US audiences for his television work this year on Hannibal) who also won the acting prize at Cannes, in 2012 for this performance.

The Wind Rises directed by Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki, first seen at the Venice Film Festival this past September, was eligible for the Foreign Language rather than the Best Animated category because it is spoken in its original Japanese. In the end, the overriding quality is neither language nor medium, but the film’s intrinsic beauty. It is the fictionalized story of Jiro Horikoshi, the lead designer for Japan’s World War II fighter plane, the Zero, but it is by no means a war film. Rather, it is an elegy to passion, achievement, love and compassion; a poignant movie made more so by Miyazaki’s announcement that it will stand as his last film. Lastly, The Great Beauty is a bridge between the golden age of Italian and European cinema and today. The director, Paolo Sorrentino, is obviously paying tribute to the late Italian master Federico Fellini, with a film populated with characters who are prisoners of the past, theirs and their country’s, and the very decadent beauty of Rome that surrounds them. In this film, as opposed to Blue or The Past, which are closer in style to the French cinema verité, Sorrentino chooses the road of high art, of elevated reality. Radically diverse films that deservedly share the Golden Globe spotlight.

Sergei Rakhlin