Decoding the Foreign-Language Oscar Race

 Courtesy El Atleta/Av Patchbay

With the Oscar shortlist due to arrive in roughly two weeks, we’ll soon know which nine films from the 65 submitted by countries or territories in the foreign-language category will make the cut.

Handicapping these submissions is difficult, given that the list is so arbitrary. The Academy’s insistence on its “one film per country” rule eliminates many fine films from such countries as France, where several wonderful movies are made yearly, and India, which churns out hundreds of films, including indie releases that perform well at festivals. Then too, the countries’ nominating bodies often are mired in controversy over conflicts of interest and favoritism.

One semi-reliable barometer, though, is the performance of these submissions at major international festivals, especially the Festival de Cannes. Indeed, success on the Croisette often helps films land on the even more select list of the five final nominees.

Still, given such a wide field, this is only guesswork. And with many of the official submissions screening at the Palm Springs festival this month, there is always a chance a complete unknown will make the cut. -- Kirk Honeycutt

ALBANIA

East, West, East: The Final Sprint
Gjergj Xhuvani, director
High Point Films bought international rights to the comedy about an Albanian cycling team that leaves the country for a competition just before a revolution breaks out.

ALGERIA

Hors la Loi (Outside the Law)
Rachid Bouchareb, director
This drama caused an uproar in France even before its release when historians assailed the accuracy of the its version of the Setif massacre during World War II.

ARGENTINA

Carancho
Pablo Trapero, director
Trapero’s crime drama shines a light on the dirty business of profiteering on automobile accidents that is rife in Argentina, where 8,000 are killed and more than 100,000 injured each year on the highways.

AUSTRIA

La Pivellina
Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, directors
The first fiction feature for Vento Film founders Covi and Frimmel.

AZERBAIJAN

The Precinct
Ilgar Safat, director
The mystery is co-production of Azerbaijan’s Narimanfilm and Georgia’s Georgianfilm and Bagira Films.

BANGLADESH

Third Person Singular Number
Mostofa Sarwar Farooki, director
The drama missed the submission date was entered only after the national selection committee extended the deadline.

BELGIUM

Illegal
Olivier Masset-Depasse, director
The drama is the result of a yearlong investigation by the director and a newspaper journalist into the plight of illegal immigrants housed in detention centers.

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

Circus Columbia
Danis Tanovic, director
Tanovic’s foreign-language win for No Man’s Land in 2002 is credited with attracting the world’s eye to the country’s scriptwriters and directors.

BRAZIL

Lula, the Son of Brazil
Fabio Barreto, director
The biopic is a period piece set over five decades — the 1940s-’80s — shot on locations in seven cities with 120 actors with speaking parts and 5,000 extras ... all in eight weeks.

More on Lula, Son of Brazil

BULGARIA

Eastern Plays
Kamen Kalev, director
It is the first Bulgarian film since 1990 to be an official selection at the Festival de Cannes.

More on Eastern Plays

CANADA

Incendies
Denis Villeneuve, director
The timely drama is adapted from the play by Wajdi Mouawad and won the top juried prize at Toronto.

CHILE

The Life of Fish
Matias Bize, director
At 23, before graduating film school, Bize directed Saturday, A Movie in Real Time, which had its world premiere at the International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg, where it won four awards.

CHINA

Aftershock
Feng Xiaogang, director
Stands as the highest-grossing domestic film to date in China. Made for $20 million, the disaster epic has earned $80 million.

COLOMBIA

Crab Trap
Oscar Ruiz Navia, director
The helmer was selected by the Cannes Residence Program, where he will live in Paris and work on his second feature.

COSTA RICA

Of Love and Other Demons
Hilda Hidalgo, director
The director’s debut feature is based on the Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel.

CROATIA

The Blacks
Goran Devic and Zvonimir Juric, directors
The Blacks was a Croatian paramilitary death squad that operated during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Kawasaki’s Rose
Jan Hrebejk, director
This is Hrebejk’s third and screenwriter Petr Jarchovsky’s fourth film to be in contention for an Oscar.

DENMARK

In a Better World
Susanne Bier, director
In Danish, this drama is titled Revenge; its original title in English was Civilization.

EGYPT

Messages From the Sea
Daoud Abdel Sayed, director
The romantic drama is Abdel Sayed’s return behind the camera after an
eight-year hiatus.

ESTONIA

The Temptation of St. Tony
Veiko Ounpuu, director
In 2008, Ounpuu received the European Talent Award at the Festival de Cannes for his St. Tony script.

ETHIOPIA

The Athlete
Davey Frankel and Rasselas Lakew, directors
The first-ever Oscar submission from Ethiopia, the biopic was shot in Ethiopia, Bulgaria and the Arctic Circle.

FINLAND

Steam of Life
Joonas Berghall and Mika Hotakainen, directors
Naked Finnish men in saunas tell stories about love, death, birth and friendship.

More on Steam of Life

FRANCE

Of Gods and Men
Xavier Beauvois, director
Based on the true story of a group of Trappist monks who were killed either by Algerian terrorists or mistakenly by Algerian soldiers depending on who you believe.

GEORGIA

Street Days
Levan Koguashvili, director
Koguashvili’s directorial debut won the top prize at Romania’s Iasi festival.

GERMANY

When We Leave
Feo Aladag, director
In Germany, the Turkish women’s organization Papatya documented 40 “honor” killings between 1996 and 2005..

GREECE

Dogtooth
Yorgos Lanthimos, director
The provocative semi-comedy premiered at the Festival de Cannes and walked away with the Un Certain Regard prize.

GREENLAND

Nuummioq
Otto Rosing and Torben Bech, directors
Danish cinematographer Bo Bilstrup captured the lighting of Greenland with two lamps from Ikea. The romantic drama is Greenland’s first foreign-language submission.

HONG KONG

Echoes of the Rainbow
Alex Law, director
The comedy-drama proved so popular in Hong Kong that the shooting location has been protected from government redevelopment.

HUNGARY

Bibliotheque Pascal
Szabolcs Hajdu, director
Winner of the Golden Reel for best film at Hungarian Film Week in Budapest.

ICELAND

Mamma Gogo
Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, director
A film director must deal with a box-office flop and his mother’s decent into the grip of Alzheimer’s disease.

INDIA

Peepli [Live]
Anusha Rizvi, director
A farmer’s advocacy group called for the film to be banned because of its depiction of farmer suicides, which claimed an estimated 200,000 lives during the past 13 years, according to government data.

INDONESIA

How Funny (Our Country Is)
Deddy Mizwar, director
Winner of the best Indonesian feature at the Jakarta festival, the comedy centers on an unemployed graduate who runs a gang of child pickpockets.

IRAN

Farewell Baghdad
Mehdi Naderi, director
Naderi says it took six years to get permission to make his war film; he changed the script 18 times to satisfy officials.

IRAQ

Son of Babylon
Mohamed Al-Daradji, director
The relationship drama won the British Independent Film Awards’ Raindance Award, given to honor exceptional achievement by filmmakers working against the odds.

ISRAEL

The Human Resources Manager
Eran Riklis, director
The comic drama won five Israeli Academy Film Awards, including best director and best picture.

More on The Human Resources Manager

ITALY

La Prima Cosa Bella (The First Beautiful Thing)
Paolo Virzi, director
More than 6,400 auditions were held in Livorno to find the actors who play the children in the comedic drama.

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