Decoding the Foreign-Language Oscar Race

Courtesy El Atleta/Av Patchbay

A look at the 65 films vying for nominations in this hard-to-predict category.

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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JAPAN

Confessions
Tetsuya Nakashima, director
Based on Kanae Minato’s six-part serial novel (Japan’s No. 1 best-seller in 2010), it held the top spot for four straight weeks, raking in more than $30 million.

KAZAKHSTAN

Strayed
Akan Satayev, director
Satayev’s directorial debut follows a man who awakens to find his wife and son have mysteriously disappeared.

KYRGYZSTAN

The Light Thief
Aktan Arym Kubat, director
Electricity is a precious commodity in the mountains of Kyrzyzstan, and Mr. Light provides that spark for his community.

LATVIA

Hong Kong Confidential
Maris Martinsons, director
This is the second time Martinsons has been an Oscar candidate; the first time, in 2008, he represented Lithuania with his debut feature Loss.

MACEDONIA

Mothers
Milcho Manchevski, director
Manchevski got his start helming music videos and won an MTV Award for Arrested Development’s Tennessee in 1992.

MEXICO

Biutiful
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, director
Gonzalez Inarritu was threatened by the Chinese mafia after they learned he was making a film about their world.

NETHERLANDS

Tirza
Rudolf van den Berg, director
In 1996, van den Berg tried his luck in Hollywood, joining producer Pierre Spengler to make Snapshots with Burt Reynolds and Julie Christie.

NICARAGUA

La Yuma
Florence Jaugey, director
This debut by French native Jaugey is the first feature-length film shot in Nicaragua in more than 20 years.

NORWAY

The Angel
Margreth Olin, director
Writer-director-producer Olin makes her feature debut after working 12 years as an award-winning documentarian.

More on The Angel

PERU

Undertow (Contracorriente)
Javier Fuentes-Leon, director
The drama is based on the director’s play Mariela’s Kitchen, which he wrote in 1997 while studying film directing at CalArts in Los Angeles, and premiered in San Sebastian in 2009.

PHILLIPINES

Noy
Dondon S. Santos and Rodel Nacianceno, director
This drama incorporates documentary footage into its tale of a would-be journalist chronicling the 2010 national elections.

POLAND

All That I Love
Jacek Borcuch, director
The comedy-drama has enjoyed a solid career at international festivals, winning awards at Sundance, Brussels and Festroia, and being selected at Rotterdam, New York, Los Angeles and Moscow.

PORTUGAL

To Die Like a Man
Joao Pedro Rodrigues, director
The story of a Lisbon drag queen’s final days, from the director of O Fantasma, played in Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2009.

PUERTO RICO

Miente (Lie)
Rafael Mercado, director
Mercado’s debut is based on Javier Avila’s novel Different, ending a long journey that began when the author wrote the psychological thriller during the mid-1990s at age 19.

ROMANIA

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle
Florin Serban, director
The Berlin International Film Festival darling (it won the Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear) included castmembers plucked from a reform school.

RUSSIA

The Edge
Alexey Uchitel, director
Lead actor Vladimir Mashkov did his own stunts, including driving a train. In one scene, he fell from a bridge into raging rapids and narrowly escaped drowning.

More on The Edge

SERBIA

Besa
Srdjan Karanovic, director
The World War I romantic drama, made in 2008, is a co-production
involving media houses from Serbia, Slovenia, France, Hungary and Croatia.

More on Besa

SLOVAKIA

Hranica (The Border)
Jaroslav Vojtek, director
Made over seven years, the documentary chronicles the absurd, randomly drawn barrier that divides the village of Slemence between Slovakia and Ukraine.

More on Hranica

SLOVENIA

9:06
Igor Sterk, director
The crew for the suicide thriller, shot in Slovenia and Croatia, hailed from nearly every region of the former Yugoslavia. Slovenia’s suicide rate is among the world’s five highest.

SOUTH AFRICA

Life, Above All
Oliver Schmitz, director
Sony Pictures Classics nabbed U.S. rights to the family drama, which is based on Allan Stratton’s award-winning 2004 novel Chanda’s Secrets.

SOUTH KOREA

A Barefoot Dream
Tae-kyun Kim, director
The sports drama was shot 90 percent in East Timor, which has practically no infrastructure for filmmaking.

More on A Barefoot Dream

SPAIN

Tambien la Lluvia (Even the Rain)
Iciar Bollain, director
The Bolivia-set film-within-a-film beat out Daniel Monzon’s blockbuster Cell 211 to win the Oscar submission.

SWEDEN

Simple Simon
Andreas Ohman, director
The Asperger’s syndrome dramedy originally was a series of 30-minute telefilms.

More on Simple Simon

SWITZERLAND

La Petite Chambre
Stephanie Chuat and Veronique Reymond, directors
The story of a bereaved mother and a man she nurses beat out 10 other entries to become the Swiss submission. The last time the country won? 1991.

TAIWAN

Monga
Chen-zer Niu, director
The gangster film set in 1980s Taiwan replaced Hear Me as the country’s
Oscar hopeful after the romantic drama was disqualified.

THAILAND

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, director
The quirky comic fantasy beat out Cannes veterans to win the 2010 Palme d’Or, a first for Thailand.

TURKEY

Bal (Honey)
Semih Kaplanoglu, director
Kaplanoglu’s last of a trilogy that includes previous fest favorites Egg and Milk won Berlin’s Golden Bear.

URUGUAY

La Vida Util
Federico Veiroj, director
Veiroj’s second feature is an homage to the dying breed of art house cinemas and runs just 63 minutes.

VENEZUELA

Hermano
Marcel Rasquin, director
Rasquin’s debut feature was produced by La Villa del Cine, a state-owned production house created by the government of Hugo Chavez.      

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