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JAN
16
3 YEARS

Oscars' Foreign-Language Film Cheat Sheet: A Country-by-Country Guide

NETHERLANDS: Sonny Boy
Director: Maria Peters

An old-fashioned epic based on a true-life interracial love story between a black Surinam man and a white Dutch woman. THR called this a "traditional film very much in the Masterpiece Theatre mold." (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)

NEW ZEALAND: The Orator
Director: Tusi Tamasese

Tamasese's feature debut is the first film shot in the Samoan language. The story focuses on Saili, who uses the power of his voice to overcome prejudice and physical disability to claim his rightful role as village chief. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening; Venice Film Festival)

NORWAY: Happy, Happy
Director: Anne Sewitsky

The helmer's feature debut, a funny twist on the bored-housewife-in-the-suburbs genre, took the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema at Sundance. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)

PERU: October
Director: Diego and Daniel Vega

An Un Certain Regard jury prize winner in Cannes, "this wry tale of two lonely people has a quiet charm," THR said. (Cannes Film Festival winner)

PHILIPPINES: The Woman in the Septic Tank
Director: Marlon Rivera

Rivera pops the pretension of his country's art house film industry with this cheeky parody, set in the mode of the mockumentary. Full of jabs at Filipino directors and their gritty-poverty aesthetic so beloved on the international circuit, the film has the pace, style and laughs to appeal beyond the festival crowd.

POLAND: In Darkness
Director: Agnieszka Holland

Twenty years after her Oscar-nominated Europa, Europa, Holland returns to the Holocaust. This look at an anti-Semitic sewer worker who ends up saving more than a dozen Jews is dedicated to Jewish-Polish activist and author Marek Edelman. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)

PORTUGAL: Jose and Pilar
Director: Miguel Goncalves Mendes

The final years in the life of Portuguese Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago play more like fiction than documentary in this Oscar hopeful, which was backed by Pedro Almodovar and Fernando Meirelles. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)

ROMANIA: Morgen
Director: Marian Crisan

More accessible than some of the Romanian new wave films of the recent past, Morgen is the tale of an illegal Turkish immigrant and his unlikely friendship with a supermarket security guard. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)

RUSSIA: Burnt by the Sun 2: The Citadel
Director: Nikita Mikhalkov

Mikhalkov's follow-up to his 1995 Oscar winner enters the 2012 race saddled with more controversy than a Russian presidential vote count. Russia's Oscar committee called on Mikhalkov to withdraw the film after it was eviscerated by critics and bombed at the local box office. International critics have been kinder, but Burnt 2 still faces an uphill battle. 

SERBIA: Montevideo: Taste of a Dream
Director: Dragan Bjelogrlic

A sports period piece about the Yugoslav soccer team's Cinderella-like run at the first World Cup in 1930, when they reached the semifinals. A box-office hit in Serbia, Montevideo already has spawned a sequel. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)

SINGAPORE: Tatsumi
Director: Eric Khoo

Arguably the most experimental of this year's foreign-language contenders, Khoo's feature is both an adaptation of five stories from seminal Japanese comic-book artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi and a biography of his life. Visually stunning and thematically disturbing, Tatsumi could be this year's Dogtooth as the bizarre outlier that makes it onto the Oscar shortlist. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)

SLOVAKIA: Gypsy
Director: Martin Sulik

This realistic look at life as a Roma in today's Central Europe took home four awards at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, including a special award for star Jan Mizigar. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)

SOUTH AFRICA: Beauty
Director: Oliver Hermanus

A closeted married man lusts after his friend's son in this drama. A parable about the fragile nature of white Afrikaan machismo, Beauty does have graphic sex scenes that could turn off some Oscar voters.

SOUTH KOREA: The Front Line
Director: Jang Hun

Hun's period epic sees soldiers from North and South Korea struggling in the country's 1950s war for control of a strategically important piece of land. A local blockbuster, Front Line is a celebration of personal heroism with a clear antiwar theme, evoking films such as Letters From Iwo Jima and The Thin Red Line. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)

SPAIN: Black Bread
Director: Agusti Villaronga

The first Catalan-language film to represent Spain in the Oscar race, this coming-of-age tale is set during the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and combines brutal period authenticity with supernatural touches familiar to fans of Oscar winner Pan's Labyrinth. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)

SWEDEN: Beyond
Director: Pernilla August

The slow-burning emotion of August's debut has many comparing the actress-turned-director to Swedish master Ingmar Bergman. Noomi Rapace plays a woman forced to confront her dark past, including her alcoholic mother and violent father, in this adaptation of the novel by Susanna Alakoski.

SWITZERLAND: Summer Games
Director: Rolando Colla

A coming-of-age tale tracing the struggles of a tough teen who has his first brush with love on a family holiday in Tuscany. Young lead Armando Condolucci was hailed as a future star after Games premiered in Venice. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)

TAIWAN: Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale
Director: Wei Te-Sheng

Action master John Woo co-produced this true-life war story about the rebellion of Taiwan's aboriginal peoples against Japanese colonizers in the 1930s. The foreign-language committee loves historical epics, but the 276-minute running time could test Academy members' endurance skills. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)

THAILAND: Kon Khon
Director: Sarunyu Wongkrachang

The choice of Kon Khon as an Oscar contender was controversial in Thailand as director Wongkrachang is a well-known supporter of the country's "yellow shirt" democracy movement. But that could work in the film's favor with Oscar voters.

TURKEY: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

The latest anti-drama from Turkish auteur Ceylan is a cerebral deconstruction of a conventional police story involving the search for a missing corpse in the hills of Anatolia. Ceylan has his fevered defenders, especially in Cannes, where Once Upon a Time won the Grand Jury Prize. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening; Cannes Film Festival winner)

UNITED KINGDOM: Patagonia
Director: Marc Evans

The foreign languages are Welsh and Spanish in this story of parallel pairs: a Welsh couple traveling to Argentina and an Argentine woman and her nephew en route to Wales. Matthew Rhys and pop singer Duffy star. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)

URUGUAY: The Silent House
Director: Gustavo Hernandez

Uruguay's Oscar hope is straight-up horror with a classic setup: A young woman and her father spend the night in a remote farmhouse with a psychopath on the loose. The twist? Hernandez' low-budget feature is shot in one 78-minute take.

VENEZUELA: The Rumble of the Stones
Director: Alejandro Bellame Palacios

A single mother attempts to haul her family out of the slums in this social drama. The film has won a number of international awards, including best picture at the 2011 Festival del Cine Venezolano. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)

VIETNAM: The Prince and the Pagoda Boy
Director: Luu Trong Ninh

An action drama set in the ninth century and focusing on a war between two brothers in the Le Dynasty, Vietnam's official Oscar contender was made to mark the millennial anniversary of the founding of the country's capital, Hanoi.