77th Golden Globe Nominees: Foreign Language Film

by Luca Celada December 9, 2019
Scenes from the Foreign Language Nominees, 2020

The nominees: Les Misérables, The Farewell, Parasite, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and Pain and Glory.

Five remarkable films were nominated for the Best Foreign Language Golden Globe representing four countries, including the United States - and two are directed by women. Qualification for the category is determined by at least 51% of the dialogue in a non-English language and that is the case for Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, spoken mostly in Mandarin. Other represented countries are Spain with Pain and Glory, South Korea with Parasite and France with two titles: Les Misérables and Portrait of a Lady on Fire. 92 films were submitted to the HFPA for consideration this year.

Lulu Wang’s film is touching and funny and a very personal story for the Chinese director who immigrated to the US as a girl. As Ruben Nepales noted in his article about the film: “The Farewell is based on the story of Wang’s real-life grandmother. When Wang’s Chinese family learns that their grandmother has only a short while to live, they decide to keep her in the dark. The story is told from the perspective of Billi (Awkwafina), a New Yorker who travels to China to visit her dying Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao), whom she is close to.”

“The resulting film is one of this year’s big box office success stories and an indie dramedy that has been earning nominations left and right in this awards season.” Wang’s alter ego in the film is played by Awkwafina who also garnered a nomination as Best Actress in a Comedy for the role.

Pain and Glory represents the eighth nomination for Pedro Almodóvar, the Spanish master who has previously won two Golden Globes. This is also a semi-autobiographical film and possibly Almodóvar’s most personal work to date: the story of a director dealing with illness and a creative block even as he comes to terms with childhood memories and his relationship to his departed mother.

As noted by the HFPA’s Elisabeth Sereda: “It would be a mistake to assume that Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory is the Spanish director’s literal autobiography, rather, as he told HFPA journalists at its North American premiere in Toronto, it should be considered a work of “auto-fiction”: “Everything that is in the movie is very familiar to me, but it doesn't mean that I experienced everything. I know the paths where the character of Antonio is, but I never... I mean sometimes I didn't (take) the same direction (as) him.” The film’s protagonist, Salvador (Antonio Banderas) is a middle-aged film director in a creative crisis; his body racked with pain and regret, he will d find renewed creative impulse by revisiting his past. At one point the Antonio exclaims that “without filmmaking, life is meaningless” –and it is hard not to see how this applies to Almodovar’s own life. And the film does, in fact, revisit aspects of the director’s own past starting with the casting of his original collaborator and alter-ego Antonio Banderas.” Remarkably the veteran Spanish actor also scored a Best Actor nomination for his standout performance.

Portrait of Lady on Fire was presented at this year’s Cannes festival to positive notice but has really…caught fire in recent weeks as it has screened stateside. It is the affecting story of intimacy and love between two young women in the 18th century – one unhappily betrothed and one hired to paint her portrait. It is director Céline Sciamma’s fourth feature. The HFPA’s Elisa Leonelli wrote: “It was the intention of this feminist director to portray a collaboration between the painter and the model, where they both contribute to the final portrait, and to depict a lesbian love story from a female point of view.” “I wanted my characters to embrace the journey and not be impressed by the fact that it was a period piece, I was obsessed with the restitution of the hearts, the bodies, the souls, the fire. The strong departure for me was telling the story of grown women for the first time, and with professional actresses; so politically you share the film with them, there is this strong collaboration in a dialogue around love and the creation of art. ”

Also French but of a very different tone is the first-time feature by Franco-Malian director Ladj Ly. Les Misérables is a play on the titles of Victor Hugo’s famous novel. The film is set in Montfermeil, the same location of Hugo’s narrative – but what was a small village on the outskirts of Paris is now a rough banlieue. The HFPA’s Jean-Paul Chaillet quoted the director: “People often think it is another adaptation of Victor Hugo’s book,” comments the director. Indeed, part of the 1862 monumental novel takes place in Montfermeil, a city where Ly actually grew up. He still lives in Les Bosquets where he shot the movie entirely last summer, for six weeks.

As Chaillet explains the film is both taut police thriller and social commentary as it follows the actions of three cops on their beat in the ethnic neighborhood: “Their day job is to patrol the area in all impunity, trying to catch delinquents in the act (sometimes with highly dubious methods), to defuse any volatile situation and to deal with a melting pot of disparate cultures. Muslims, religious zealots, North African immigrants, gypsy travelers, local gangs, all forced to cohabit in often confrontational ways. When an arrest involving a teenager turns unexpectedly violent, the three officers must reckon with the aftermath to keep the neighborhood from spiraling out of control and avoid a gigantic race riot…” The film shared the Jury Prize in Cannes.

Of Parasite, HFPA journalist Paz Mata writes: “Kim Ki-taek is the patriarch of the Kim family, a clan whose members are unemployed and live poorly in their humble Seoul home, dodging precarious jobs and stealing Wi-Fi from their neighbor. His luck changes when his son gets, with questionable methods, a position as an English tutor at the house of a wealthy family: the Parks. As the confidence of his employers is gained, the boy gets the rest of his relatives to work in the luxurious mansion, forging a series of uncontrollable events with unforeseeable consequences. This is the story of Parasite, a story that recounts the relationship between two families at the antipodes of the social pyramid, for many, Bong Joon-ho’s (The Host, Snowpiercer, Okja) best film.” That opinion was shared by this year’s Cannes jury, who awarded the director the Palme d’Or. Bong will try to add to his laurels on January 5th, 2020 when he will join his fellow nominees at the 77th Golden Globes Awards, live on NBC.