Oscars Guide: Inside the 85 Foreign Films Vying for the Prize

12:39 PM 11/17/2016

by THR Staff

One country on its first-ever hunt for Oscar (Yemen), some serious veteran helmers (including Spain's Pedro Almodovar) and a wild range of hard-hitting and heart-touching topics add up to a heated foreign-language Oscar race.

By Mia Galuppo, Kendal McAlpin, Jordan Riefe, Alex Ritman and Scott Roxborough

  • Chromium

    Albania

    Courtesy of 90 Production

    DIRECTED BY Bujar Alimani

    The drama follows a 15-year-old boy as he tries to escape the house of his deaf-mute mother by working illegally in the local chromium mine. It's director Alimani's second shot at Oscar; his 2011 Amnesty was submitted but failed to make the shortlist.

  • The Well

    Algeria

    DIRECTED BY Lotfi Bouchouchi

    Algeria hopes to continue its solid track record at the Oscars — a win and four nominations — with this debut feature, set in a small village besieged by the French Army during the country's war of independence.

  • The Distinguished Citizen

    Argentina

    DIRECTED BY Mariano Cohn, Gaston Duprat

    The acid-influenced dramedy centers on a Nobel Prize-winning writer who returns to Argentina after 40 years abroad. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where it earned actor honors for Oscar Martinez, who starred in the 2015 foreign-language Oscar nominee Wild Tales.

  • Tanna

    Australia

    Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

    DIRECTED BY Bentley Dean, Martin Butler

    The feature-film debut of two Australian documentarians, Tanna is a Romeo & Juliet-style folktale set among the tribal people of a South Pacific island, with the actors cast from the tribe all playing versions of themselves.

  • Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe

    Austria

    Festival del film Locarno

    DIRECTED BY Maria Schrader

    This art house sleeper hit from actress-turned-director Schrader follows the famed Jewish-Austrian writer after he flees Nazi-occupied Europe for America and then Brazil, only to find himself haunted by the land and language he left behind.

  • Unnamed

    Bangladesh

    DIRECTED BY Tauquir Ahmed

    The 13th submission from Bangladesh, directed by architect-turned-actor-turned-director Ahmed, tackles the very current issue of expatriate laborers, delving into the dark underbelly of international human trafficking.

  • The Ardennes

    Belgium

    DIRECTED BY Robin Pront

    Another crime drama from the producer of 2012 Oscar nominee Bullhead, this film tells the dark tale of two brothers whose loyalty to each other is tested by their love for the same woman.

  • Sealed Cargo

    Bolivia

    Courtesy of Imagina Films

    DIRECTED BY Julia Vargas Weise

    The third feature from Weise is a psuedo-comedic social critique of the global waste trade centering on a corrupt cop, his wife and an old steam train he uses to transport toxic waste into Chile.

  • Death in Sarajevo

    Bosnia and Herzegovina

    Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

    DIRECTED BY Danis Tanovic

    From the director of the 2002 foreign-language winner No Man's Land comes this Robert Altman-esque drama with many interlocking characters and storylines, all set in a luxury hotel.

  • Little Secret

    Brazil

    Diamond Films Brasil

    DIRECTED BY David Schurmann

    This feature based on director Schurmann's real-life sister, an orphan who was adopted by his parents and then died in 2006 (his mother, Heloisa, penned a best-selling novel about the experience), was a controversial selection over Cannes pick and popular favorite Aquarius.

  • Losers

    Bulgaria

    Courtesy of Moscow International Film Festival

    DIRECTED BY Ivaylo Hristov

    Hristov's dramedy, from a country that never has scored a foreign-language Oscar nomination, centers on a group of high school friends whose lives are upended when a famous rock band visits their small town.

  • Before the Fall

    Cambodia

    DIRECTED BY Ian White

    Cambodia earned its first nomination in 2013 with The Missing Picture and will look to repeat the feat with this debut from Australian writer-director White. Set in Phnom Penh in 1975, as Khmer Rouge forces look to overrun the city, the film sees a nightclub singer engage in a battle of wits and deception with two lovers in an attempt to escape.

  • It's Only the End of the World

    Canada

    DIRECTED BY Xavier Dolan

    Critics were divided over the latest from the Canadian wunderkind, an adaptation of the play by Jean-Luc Lagarce about a young man who returns home to tell his family he's dying, but the Cannes jury loved it, giving Dolan his second grand jury prize.

  • Neruda

    Chile

    DIRECTED BY Pablo Larrain

    A reinvention of the historical-figure biopic, the film traces a two-year sliver of the life of Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda after his refusal to renounce his communist ideals made him public enemy No. 1. (See page 44 for more.) Larrain also is generating awards-season buzz with the Natalie Portman-led Jackie.

  • Xuan Zang

    China

    DIRECTED BY Huo Jianqi

    The historical epic follows the 17-year journey of Buddhist monk Xuanzang from China to India. It's the first major China-India co-production, produced by the China Film Corp. and India's Eros International.

  • Alias Maria

    Colombia

    Rhayuela Cine

    DIRECTED BY Jose Luis Rugeles

    Rugeles' film centers on a young, pregnant guerilla fighter who must travel through the jungle to get her commanding officer's newborn baby to safety. Colombia's first-ever foreign-language Oscar nomination came last year with Ciro Guerra's Embrace of the Serpent.

  • About Us

    Costa Rica

    DIRECTED BY Hernan Jimenez

    Jimenez, who came up with the idea for this film while studying scriptwriting at Columbia University, also stars in the Spanish-language dramedy, which was made with a micro-budget of $400,000 and follows a hopeless romantic whose plans to propose to his girlfriend on a beach vacation go horribly awry.

  • On the Other Side

    Croatia

    Courtesy of Interfilm

    DIRECTED BY Zrinko Ogresta

    This drama chronicles a family dealing with the long-lasting effects of the Balkans civil war. Croatia gained its independence in 1992 and has submitted a film for the Oscars every year since but never has earned a nom.

  • The Companion

    Cuba

    Courtesy of Habanero Films

    DIRECTED BY Pavel Giroud

    Giroud follows up his award-winning The Silly Age with this '80s drama — set in a sanatorium for AIDS patients — a tale of struggle against the political system, against disease and against the past.

  • Lost in Munich

    Czech Republic

    Courtesy of Lucky Man Films

    DIRECTED BY Petr Zelenka

    The political farce centers on a parrot that once belonged to French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier that is taken to Prague, where a major diplomatic crisis is sparked when Pavel, a journalist suffering from a midlife crisis, steals the bird.

     

  • Land of Mine

    Denmark

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    DIRECTED BY Martin Zandvliet

    Proof that there still are untold stories about World War II, this Danish drama weaves a nail-biting thriller out of the true story of German prisoners of war forced, after the Allied liberation, to clear the Danish coastline of millions of mines planted by the Nazis.

  • Sugar Fields

    Dominican Republic

    DIRECTED BY Fernando Baez

    The fifth feature from Baez revolves around two families living under the brutal regime of Rafael Trujillo in the 1940s. The Dominican Republic has submitted a film every year since 2011 but never has been nominated.

  • Such Is Life in the Tropics

    Ecuador

    Courtesy of Carnaval Cine

    DIRECTED BY Sebastian Cordero

    The tragedy centers on a wealthy young man who tries to evict a squatter settlement from land he inherited from his father, a plan that leads to violence.

  • Clash

    Egypt

    DIRECTED BY Mohamed Diab

    Set entirely in the back of a police van during the recent violent coup on the streets of Cairo, Clash opened Cannes' Un Certain Regard sidebar to widespread critical acclaim. Despite the best attempts of the government, Diab's intense film went straight to the top of the local box office and could well score Egypt's first-ever foreign-language nomination.

  • Mother

    Estonia

    Meteoriit Ou

    DIRECTED BY Kadri Kousaar

    The dark comedy is set in a small town where a woman has to take care of her comatose son while juggling an extra-marital affair. Estonia made it to the nominees list in 2013 with Georgia co-production Tangerines.

  • The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki

    Finland

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    DIRECTED BY Juho Kuosmanen

    The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki is a boxing movie unlike other boxing movies. Yes, there is sweat, blood, jogging and jumping rope. But all of that, even the big fight at the end, exists to serve a story about true love and joyful self-knowledge, not about winning at all costs. Based on the true story of the quiet Finnish boxer who lost the featherweight world championship match to American Davey Moore in 1962, this spare, elegant and ultimately cheerful film is the first full-length feature from director Juho Kuosmanen, who spoke with THR about telling the story of a reluctant hero who loses the championship but wins in love and life.

    There's a scene where Olli is training, running in the forest, and he flies a kite. What is that scene about? That's a moment of film where usually the protagonist finds their inner strength, and they seem to [be able to] go through walls — that's what we are expecting him to do. For us, it was something like, what Olli needs to find is joy again. He finds himself again, this playful, joyful character that he used to be before everything started to go wrong.

    Society today emphasizes success and celebrity, but the message of your movie is about the value of more fundamental things. When you are making art, it's about your personal voice, it's about your personal thoughts and in the end wondering who we are. And if you are just trying to gain success, you are thinking totally from the wrong perspective of things. You are thinking from the outside point of view. If we are talking about success, we should define what we are talking about because if we don't, whatever we gain, we end up with this feeling of loneliness. Success is great, but it also can be like a drug. It feels good, but when it's over, it's over. So that's what made Olli a hero for me; it's not that he lost or he won but the way he dealt with the loss and how he defined his own success, like he can choose what is his own happiest day. — Shannon L. Bowen

  • Elle

    France

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    DIRECTED BY Paul Verhoeven

    Arguably the most controversial film in the foreign-language race, Verhoeven's French-language debut features a fearless Isabelle Huppert as a raped woman who refuses to be a victim and instead turns her attack into a source of self-actualization.

  • House of Others

    Georgia

    Cinetech Film

    DIRECTED BY Rusudan Glurjidze

    Set after a bitter civil war, the drama follows a family that occupies a deserted home in an area that has been ethnically cleansed. House of Others is a semi-autobiographical project and Glurjidze's debut feature.

  • Toni Erdmann

    Germany

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    DIRECTED BY Maren Ade

    The best-reviewed film out of Cannes (surprisingly snubbed by the jury), Toni Erdmann is a slow-burn comedy about the strained relationship between an adult daughter questioning her life choices and her estranged father, a tireless practical joker who hatches a crazy scheme to get her back into his life.

     

  • Chevalier

    Greece

    Courtesy of Festival del Film Locarno

    DIRECTED BY Athina Rachel Tsangari

    A tale of male rivalry, chest-beating and manhood-measuring on the high seas, this deadpan comedy picked up the best film at last year's London Film Festival and hopes to be Greece's first nomination since Yorgos Lanthimos' dark Dogtooth in 2010.

  • Port of Call

    Hong Kong

    Courtesy of Hong Kong International Film Festival

    DIRECTED BY Philip Yung

    Writer-director Yung's Hong Kong-set crime thriller centers on the investigation of the murder of a young female immigrant from mainland China. Port of Call, which stars singer-actor Aaron Kwok, took home seven honors at the Hong Kong Film Awards.

  • Kills on Wheels

    Hungary

    KVIFF

    DIRECTED BY Attila Till

    Hungary's contender wins the prize for most original concept: a comedy about three disabled men who become unlikely assassins for a Balkan crime lord.

  • Sparrows

    Iceland

    Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

    DIRECTED BY Runar Runarsson

    A coming-of-age drama set against the stark beauty of the Icelandic countryside, Sparrows follows Ari, an angsty teen sent to stay with his father in a remote seaside village.

  • Visaranai

    India

    DIRECTED BY Vetrimaaran

    Based on a true story, this tense and often violent Tamil-language thriller follows four innocent young men who find themselves caught up in police brutality and corruption. It first bowed at last year's Venice Film Festival, where it bagged the Amnesty International Italia Award.

  • Letters From Prague

    Indonesia

    DIRECTED BY Angga Dwimas Sasongko

    In his political film of exile and romance, Sasongko tells the little-known story of Indonesian students forced out of the country following the coup of former dictator Suharto in 1965. Could it give the Southeast Asian nation its first nom in 18 attempts?

  • The Salesman

    Iran

    Courtesy of TIFF

    Set in Tehran, Asghar Farhadi's latest film follows a married couple, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), theater actors playing in a production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. There's tension from the start, beginning with a powerful scene in which Emad and Rana's apartment building — which they've just moved into — suddenly begins to collapse in the middle of the night, sending all of the tenants racing outside to safety.

    A kindly fellow actor in their troupe lets Emad and Rana move in to a vacated apartment he owns. But for less-than-transparent reasons of his own, he doesn't tell them the previous tenant was a prostitute. One night, the intercom buzzes, and Rana opens the door thinking she's letting in Emad. Instead, she is raped by one of the former tenant's clients — though Farhadi does not show the assault onscreen, leaving the audience with more questions than answers. What ensues is a gripping psychological thriller that plays out within the confines of a now-strained marriage. Says Farhadi: "It's a little like a detective film in reality. And as a viewer, you're constantly in search of finding out what it is that happened. But what has been added to the drama is that the drama itself is the product of the sum total of small details of daily life. That combination of a thriller, drama and of daily life gives you this film."

    Among the more excruciating details is the way Emad and Rana isolate themselves after the assault. At first, Emad is in denial, while Rana falls apart, turning cold in her pain and shame. Eventually, Emad's pride and thirst for revenge drive him to become monstrous even as Rana reclaims her power by showing mercy when she encounters her attacker — an ailing old man, who, despite his heinous violation of her, is a pathetic character. "The most significant characteristic that identifies Rana is — notwithstanding the damage and the suffering she's undergone — her perspective is broader," says Farhadi. Ultimately, with the fate of her attacker in her husband's hands, Rana is compassionate, almost as if she's channeling the words of Miller's masterpiece: "Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person."

  • El Clasico

    Iraq

    DIRECTED BY Halkawt Mustafa

    Spanish soccer — particularly the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona — is a passion in Iraqi Kurdistan, a factor that sets the backdrop for this lively drama. To win the hand of the girl he loves, a Kurdish boy journeys with his brother to Spain to present Cristiano Ronaldo with a pair of handmade slippers. Ronaldo, sadly, doesn't appear in the film.

     

  • Sand Storm

    Israel

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    DIRECTED BY Elite Zexer

    Israel will be hoping to break its five-year absence from the nomination list with Zexer's acclaimed look at female empowerment, a drama in Arabic (a first for an Israeli Oscar entry) about two Bedouin women battling sexist cultural norms in a dusty village.

  • Fire at Sea

    Italy

    Courtesy of TIFF

    It's unusual for a documentary to be in the running for best foreign-language film, but Fire at Sea, the new film from director Gianfranco Rosi, is no ordinary doc. Best film winner at the Berlin Film Festival this year, Fire at Sea tells the story of an issue — the migrant crisis in Europe — that has been in the news for so long, it has become almost background noise.

    Rosi's film, instead of replicating the images from the news bulletins or taking a finger-wagging Michael Moore approach, eschews commentary in favor of careful observation. Shot over a year on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where wave upon wave of migrants arrive, Rosi intertwines the story of the crisis, seen through the eyes of emergency doctor Pietro Bartolo, with that of ordinary life on the island, via Samuele, a rambunctious but also troubled 12-year-old boy who is unsure how to react to the thousands of strangers fleeing war and seeking shelter.

    "This was supposed to be much shorter, 20 minutes, for Italian television," Rosi tells THR. "But when I went to Lampedusa, I realized the story was much bigger. I moved to the island for a year and started making the film."

    He arrived during a lull in the refugee crisis, after a center on the island for processing migrants had burned down and before a new one was erected. "Paradoxically, for the first two to three months, there were no incidents of people arriving, so I had time to immerse myself in the identity of the place, tried to find the identity of this island in the middle of the sea between Italy and Africa," he says.

    Then came the summer of 2015, and boat after boat of refugees began attempting the journey across that sea."Suddenly, all the issues started rising up, and the refugees became a big political issue, though still I think it is quite weak, the reaction," says Rosi of Europe's response to the migrant crisis. He also is a bitter critic of the way the news media has covered the issue.

    "Whenever there was a big tragedy, you had Lampedusa invaded by journalists. They'd stay one day, and [then] they'd all leave. And there was an emptiness," he continues. "I wanted to bring more the impact of a moment, and that is not being covered. To make it immediate and urgent. There's the scene in the film when [a group of refugees] narrate their story with a rap song. This rap, this sort-of prayer, for me tells the whole story of these people. How they escaped from tragedy, through the desert, drinking their own pee, crossing the sea, arriving. When you hear that from one person, one individual, you feel the need, the urgency, that we have to do something."

  • Nagasaki: Memories of My Son

    Japan

    DIRECTED BY Yoji Yamada

    Yamada's World War II aftermath drama tells the story of a woman whose dead son — killed in the Nagasaki atomic bombing in 1945 — still appears to her. Nagasaki: Memories of My Son is the fifth film from the 85-year-old director that has been selected by Japan for Oscar consideration.

  • 3000 Nights

    Jordan

    Credit: Mad Solutions

    DIRECTED BY Mai Masri

    Jordan made it to the final round last year in just its second attempt with Theeb. In 3000 Nights, documentarian Masri uses her first narrative feature to illustrate the plight of political prisoners, focusing on a falsely accused Palestinian woman who gives birth and raises her son while serving eight years in an Israeli jail.

  • Amanat

    Kazakhstan

    Courtesy of Arman Asenov

    DIRECTED BY Satybaldy Narymbetov

    Narymbetov's historic drama takes place over three time periods in Kazakh history, with the last chapter following political prisoner Ermukhan Bekmakhanov, who authored books about the national liberation movement. The central Asian country has been nominated once, in 2007, for Mongol.

  • Home Sweet Home

    Kosovo

    Courtesy of Kosovo Cinematography Center

    DIRECTED BY Faton Bajraktari

    A veteran of the Kosovo civil war, thought dead, returns to his less-than-welcoming nearest and dearest, who have been enjoying the many benefits granted to the families of martyrs.

  • A Father's Will

    Kyrgyzstan

    Courtesy of Kyrgyzfilm and Elfilm Studio

    DIRECTED BY Bakyt Mukul, Dastan Zhapar Uulu

    The drama from two first-time feature directors follows a man who, after living in the U.S. for 15 years, returns to Kyrgyzstan to implement his deceased father's will. The former Soviet republic has submitted nine films since gaining its independence in 1991, but it has never been nominated in the foreign-language category.

  • Dawn

    Latvia

    DIRECTED BY Laila Pakalnina

    The black-and-white feature is based on the 1920s Soviet legend of Pavel Morozov, a communist who informs on his corrupt peasant father and later is murdered. Pakalnina modernized the story and set her film on a farm in Soviet Latvia during the 1960s and pays homage to communist-era, Eastern bloc filmmaking.

  • Very Big Shot

    Lebanon

    Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

    DIRECTED BY Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya

    In this darkly comic thriller, three brothers use their family pizza shop to expand their drug-smuggling business from Beirut into the Middle East. Described in one review as "Argo meets Reservoir Dogs," Very Big Shot could be Lebanon's best chance at making it to the next round since Nadine Labaki's cruelly snubbed 2011 hit Where Do We Go Now?

  • Seneca's Day

    Lithuania

    Courtesy of Uljana Kim Studija

    DIRECTED BY Kristijonas Vildziunas

    Rock star-turned-director Vildziunas' feature begins in 1989, the last year of Soviet rule, and follows a group of teenagers determined to live life to the fullest. The film then jumps forward 25 years, after the group of friends has disbanded, as one member — now a successful but unfulfilled businessman — delves into his past.

  • Voices From Chernobyl

    Luxembourg

    Courtesy of La Huit

    DIRECTED BY Pol Cruchten

    The docudrama centers on the infamous 1996 meltdown at the Chernobyl power plant in what is now Ukraine. The film is based on Svetlana Alexievich's Nobel Prize-winning oral history and sees actors re-creating scenes from the book's first-person accounts. Cruchten's 2013 feature Never Die Young also was chosen as Luxembourg's entry for the Oscars.

  • The Liberation of Skopje

    Macedonia

    Courtesy of MP Film Production

    DIRECTED BY Rade Serbedzija, Danilo Serbedzija

    The wartime drama depicts the World War II occupation and liberation of the now Macedonian capital, Skopje, as told through the experiences of 8-year-old Zoran. Actors-turned-directors Rade and son Danilo both appeared in the original 1980 stage version of The Liberation of Skopje. Their country hasn't been nominated for a foreign-language Oscar since 1994.

  • Beautiful Pain

    Malaysia

    DIRECTED BY Tunku Mona Riza

    A married couple struggles to keep their family intact when their young son is diagnosed with autism in this directorial debut starring June Lojong, best actress winner at July's World Premieres Film Festival in the Philippines. A box-office failure in its home country, the movie was elevated by its stirring emotional message and its strong festival showings. It's Malaysia's fourth submission with no previous nominations.

  • Desierto

    Mexico

    Courtesy of STX Productions

    DIRECTED BY Jonas Cuaron

    Cuaron — son of Alfonso, who produces — takes on immigration in this sharp drama. The hopes of Gael Garcia Bernal's Mexican migrant worker for a better life in the U.S. come up against a gun-toting vigilante who aims to kill every immigrant who makes it across the border.

  • The Black Pin

    Montenegro

    Courtesy of Adriatic Western

    DIRECTED BY Ivan Marinovic

    When an orthodox priest returns to his humble village to care for his ailing mother, he is welcomed with open arms by the locals — until he refuses to join them in selling land to a real estate prospector.

  • A Mile in My Shoes

    Morocco

    DIRECTED BY Said Khallaf

    A destitute teenager takes aim at the society that oppresses him in this bleak but touching revenge thriller, which earned raves at film festivals in Tangier and Durban.

  • The Black Hen

    Nepal

    Courtesy of Tandem Production, Shooney Films Pvt Lrd, CDP

    DIRECTED BY Min Bahadur Bham

    Winner of the Fedeora Award at the 2015 Venice Film Festival, this directorial debut focuses on two young friends from opposite sides of the tracks who go in search of a missing hen during a cease-fire in Nepal's 2001 civil war.

  • Tonio

    Netherlands

    Courtesy of NL Film/September Film

    DIRECTED BY Paula van der Oest

    The third Oscar submission from Dutch director van der Oest, nominated for Zus & Zo in 2002, Tonio is adapted from the best-selling novel by Dutch author A.F. Th. van der Heijden, which explores the death of his 21-year-old son, Tonio, in a car crash.

  • A Flickering Truth

    New Zealand

    Courtesy of New Zealand Film Commission

    DIRECTED BY Pietra Brettkelly

    This documentary explores the efforts to save the Afghan film archives in Kabul from the hands of the Taliban.

  • The King's Choice

    Norway

    Courtesy the Norwegian Film Institute

    DIRECTED BY Erik Poppe

    Set during the German invasion of Norway in 1940, this drama looks at the decision faced by then-leader King Haakon VII: to capitulate and accept a Nazi-controlled regime, or to resist and face possible death.

  • Mah-e-Mir

    Pakistan

    Hum Films

    DIRECTED BY Anjum Shahzad, Sarmad Sehbai

    Pakistan's sixth Oscar submission brings to the screen the works of one of Urdu poetry's most beloved names, Mir Taqi Mir, drawing parallels between the trials of this 18th century figure and a modern-day writer facing his own struggles against the country's literary elite.

  • The Idol

    Palestine

    Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

    DIRECTED BY Hany Abu-Assad

    It could be three for three for this director should his latest submission go the way of Omar in 2013 and Paradise Now in 2005, both nominated. Markedly different from his previous features, The Idol dramatizes the real-life story of Mohammed Assaf, who in 2013 went from being a wedding singer living in a refugee camp in Gaza to winning the regional version of American Idol and becoming an international icon.

  • Salsipuedes

    Panama

    Courtesy of Panama International Film Festival

    DIRECTED BY Ricardo Aguilar Navarro, Manolito Rodriguez

    Inspired by the work of singer Ruben Blades, this drama follows a student from the U.S. who returns to his roots in Panama.

  • Videophilia (and Other Viral Syndromes)

    Peru

    Courtesy of International Film Festival Rotterdam

    DIRECTED BY Juan Daniel F. Molero

    A psychedelic, carnal tale, this unusual film focuses on a teenage girl and the amateur internet pornographer who takes her on a journey through alternate realities and the Mayan apocalypse.

  • Ma' Rosa

    Philippines

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTED BY Brillante Mendoza

    This Cannes competition entry is set around a Manila convenience store as drug dealers come up against police corruption.

  • Afterimage

    Poland

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTED BY Andrzej Wajda

    The last film from Polish legend (and honorary Oscar winner) Wajda, this drama explores familiar territory with a plot involving a painter suffering under the yoke of Poland's Stalinist regime.

  • Letters From War

    Portugal

    Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival

    DIRECTED BY Ivo M. Ferreira

    This film dramatizes the letters sent home by famed Portuguese author Antonio Lobo Antunes while he was a combat medic stationed in Angola during that country's battle for independence.

  • Sieranevada

    Romania

    Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

    DIRECTED BY Cristi Puiu

    Another claustrophobic masterpiece from Puiu (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu), this is set over the course of a single meal involving the estranged members of a Romanian family, gathered in honor of their deceased father.

  • Paradise

    Russia

    Courtesy of Venice International Film Festival

    DIRECTED BY Andrei Konchalovsky

    The filmmaker turns in a World War II drama about a Russian noblewoman imprisoned for sheltering Jewish children in occupied France. After taking the Golden Lion in Venice, Konchalovsky is hoping not to repeat what happened in 2002, when his Venice Grand Prize winner House of Fools was submitted for the Oscar but didn't get nominated.

  • Barakah Meets Barakah

    Saudi Arabia

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTED BY Mahmoud Sabbagh

    In this charming rom-com set in Jeddah, a couple attempts to navigate social taboos and the ever-watching cops to spend time with each other.

  • Train Driver's Diary

    Serbia

    Courtesy of ZILLION film

    DIRECTED BY Milos Radovic

    An unintentional mass murder sits at the center of this dark comedy about a train driver grappling with the fact that he has accidentally killed roughly 20 civilians throughout his career.

  • Apprentice

    Singapore

    Courtesy of Luxbox/Meg White

    DIRECTED BY Boo Junfeng

    A correctional officer is transferred to a new prison, becoming assistant to a famous executioner who took his father's life for a crime he didn't commit.

  • Eva Nova

    Slovakia

    Courtesy of Artileria

    DIRECTED BY Marko Skop

    In this emotionally resonant character study, an aging acting diva played by distinguished veteran Emilia Vasaryova tries to reunite with her estranged son after finally getting sober.

  • Houston, We Have a Problem!

    Slovenia

    Courtesy of Nukleus

    DIRECTED BY Ziga Virc

    This oddball melding of fact and fiction centers on communist leader Marshall Tito's agreement to trade a space program to the U.S. in exchange for $3 billion in "overseas aid." Backed by HBO Europe, the film marks documentarian Virc's narrative debut.

  • Call Me Thief

    South Africa

    DIRECTED BY Daryne Joshua

    This directorial debut is based on the true-life account of a man who learns the transformative power of storytelling while in jail. The only South African movie to win the Oscar was 2005's Tsotsi, which launched the career of filmmaker Gavin Hood.

  • The Age of Shadows

    South Korea

    Courtesy of Warner Brothers

    Director Kim Jee-woon's latest film is his first spy thriller as well as the first Korean-language film that Warner Bros. financed and distributed. Though its selection over Park Chan-wook's The Handmaiden wasn't without controversy, The Age of Shadows has been well-received by audiences and critics. In the film, which takes place during the 1920s Japanese occupation of Korea, a Korea-born Japanese police officer (played by Song Kang-ho, of Snowpiercer fame) must infiltrate a resistance movement trying to destroy Japanese facilities in Seoul. Conflicted but still loyal to the country of his birth, the officer becomes a double agent. What ensues is a tale of sacrifice, betrayal and idealism, all woven around epic plot twists and a particularly kinetic set piece aboard a train to Seoul. For Jee-woon, the opportunity to add the genre to his repertoire was irresistible. "When I was a child, I read a book [Song of Arirang] about a Korean resistance fighter. I was very moved by that book, and I always wanted to make that into a spy film, which would also be meaningful." A line at the end of the film — "Even when we fail, we move forward" — has particular resonance. "[The mission in the story] was a failed operation, but I found that those kinds of small acts and small movements would still help Korea become liberated and one of the most successful nations in Asia." 

  • Julieta

    Spain

    Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

    DIRECTED BY Pedro Almodovar

    Spain's entry, its sixth from Almodovar, follows a brokenhearted classicist as she confronts the painful events of her life, including the disappearance of her daughter, and depression after a chance encounter with an old acquaintance.

  • A Man Called Ove

    Sweden

    Anders Nicander

    DIRECTED BY Hannes Holm

    One of the few comedies in the running this year, this Swedish delight stars Rolf Lassgard as a curmudgeon whose cantankerous shell is cracked by a Persian family that moves in next door.

  • My Life as a Zucchini

    Switzerland

    DIRECTED BY Claude Barras

    Such is the buzz around Barras' first stop-motion-animated feature since it bowed in Cannes that it could be nominated in the best animated feature category as well. This tale of vulnerable children living in an orphanage packs a powerfully emotional punch.

  • Hang in There, Kids!

    Taiwan

    DIRECTED BY Laha Mebow

    Three children from the mountains discover their teacher's stunning singing voice and travel to Taipei to launch her music career. This drama won five awards at the Taipei Film Festival, including grand prize and best director for Mebow.

  • Karma

    Thailand

    DIRECTED BY Kanittha Kwunyoo

    Forced by his father to become a monk, a young man develops an intimate relationship with a village girl, only to confront the haunting terror of broken vows.

     

  • Cold of Kalandar

    Turkey

    Courtesy of Karafilm Productions

    DIRECTED BY Mustafa Kara

    A poetic look at a family's resilience in the face of poverty and extreme elements, this drama set in Northern Turkey won two awards at its world premiere in 2015 at the Tokyo Film Festival.

  • Ukrainian Sheriffs

    Ukraine

    Courtesy of International Documentary Festival Amsterdam

    DIRECTED BY Roman Bondarchuk

    This tragi-comic documentary about a two-man law-enforcement outpost won a special jury award at 2015's Amsterdam Documentary Film Festival.

  • Under the Shadow

    United Kingdom

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    Seeing your debut feature picked up by Netflix, receive critical acclaim across the board and be selected to represent the U.K. at the next Oscars might all be well and good, but for Babak Anvari, the Tehran-born Londoner behind the Farsi-language horror film Under the Shadow, his biggest thrill in what has been a somewhat ridiculous year came when he received a tap on his shoulder after its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

    "I turned around, and it was Slash from Guns N' Roses, wearing his top hat!" he tells THR. "Apparently, he's a massive genre film fan. He said he loved it, then Instagrammed about it. There were loads of Farsi comments underneath as he has a huge fan base in Iran. It was nuts."

    No disrespect to the legendary axman, but Under the Shadow already was on its way to becoming one of Sundance's most buzzy titles before Slash's (much-appreciated) endorsement. On the eve of the film's first screening in Utah, Netflix swooped in for international streaming rights (ruining producer Lucan Toh's dreams of being locked "in a war room"), sending an instant ripple around the industry.

    "I was so shocked at how things happen so fast over there," says Anvari, who now is executive producing an English-language version of the film with London banner Wigwam. "Agents and managers were already calling me before the festival started."

    A U.K. resident since moving to London at age 19 to study filmmaking, Anvari turned to his childhood memories of 1980s Tehran for his first feature, which uses the claustrophobic, uneasy backdrop of the Iran-Iraq war to tell the story of a young girl and mother haunted by a Jinn, a demonic Islamic spirit.

    "Ultimately, for me, it's a film about how national hysteria creates personal hysteria," he says, highlighting how for those living in cities far away from the battlefields, the conflict simply was what they were told on news reports and the sirens as missiles descended. "You have no idea what's happening — that was the creepy thing I remember of the war."

    But while Under the Shadow serves up more than enough scares, it also offers an unusual peek into Iranian life during a period rarely seen onscreen. For example, one scene shows the mother (played by Narges Rashidi) exercising in a lounge to a Jane Fonda workout video, which Anvari says was "mega popular" at the time (even with his own mother).

    Naturally, the film — which was shot in Jordan rather than Iran because of the Jane Fonda video and "many other reasons" — has been attacked by hard-line groups in Iran. Some have accused it of being "anti-Iranian" and portraying a "very dark image" of the country.

    "Hang on a second," says Anvari. "There was a war going on; it wasn't exactly hunky-dory. It was a pretty dark and intense time."

  • Breadcrumbs

    Uruguay

    Courtesy of Xamalu Filmes

    DIRECTED BY Manane Rodriguez

    Set during Uruguay's military dictatorship of the '70s and '80s, this gritty drama chronicles one woman's determination in the face of a brutal regime.

  • From Afar

    Venezuela

    DIRECTED BY Lorenzo Vigas

    Vigas made history with his feature debut last year, becoming the first Venezuelan invited to the Venice Film Festival and winning the Golden Lion. This character study about a gay man could be another first — an Oscar nomination for a Venezuelan film.

     

  • Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass

    Vietnam

    DIRECTED BY Victor Vu

    Based on Nguyen Nhat Anh's award-winning book, this '80s-set tale, from one of Vietnam's top directors, follows two boys who compete for the affections of a young girl who lives nearby.

  • I Am Nojoom: Age 10 and Divorced

    Yemen

    Courtesy of Dubai International Film Festival

    DIRECTED BY Khadija al-Salami

    In Yemen's first-ever submission, noted doc-maker al-Salami turns to narrative to highlight a real issue facing the country: child brides. Based on a true story and book, this feature, which won the top prize at the Dubai Film Festival, follows a young girl's attempts to escape an abusive marriage that she was forced into by her family.

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