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A record 67 films are in the running for the 2009 foreign-language film Oscar, with the five nominees set to be announced Jan. 22. As always, the lineup is an eclectic mix, with big-budget epics rubbing shoulders with tiny art house gems. To keep you up to speed, The Hollywood Reporter provides this handy cheat sheet, with background on the films and links to reviews.
|Afghanistan: “Opium War,” Siddiq Barmak | Click here for film review
Barmak’s film, which screened in competition at the Rome International Film Festival in October, received postproduction funding in 2007 from the Korean Film Council. That honor brought Barmak to the Pusan International Film Festival to screen the finished film.
|Albania: “The Sorrow of Mrs. Schneider,” Piro Milkani and Eno Milkani
Centering on Piro Milkani’s experiences at the Prague academy where he studied from 1955-61, “Sorrow” tells the story of a group of friends shooting their graduation film about a motorcycle factory.
|Algeria: “Masquerades” (Mascarades), Lyes Salem
Salem’s film centers on an Algerian villager who fabricates the story of finding a suitor for his spinster sister, prompting the whole town to begin wedding preparations. It received the grand prize at the Festival des cinemas d’Afrique du pays d’Apt.
|Argentina: “Lion’s Den” (Leonera), Pablo Trapero | Click here for film review
Trapero’s indie film, which revolves around Argentinean women raising their toddlers in jail, screened in Competition at the Festival de Cannes in 2008, was part of the the Contemporary World Cinema sidebar at Toronto and joined the AFI lineup for the fall.
|Austria: “Revanche,” Gotz Spielmann | Click here for film review
This unconventional story of guilt and revenge won top honors from both the Label of European Cinemas and the International Confederation of Art Cinemas in Berlin in 2008. It is among the 44 titles on the European Film Academy’s list for the 2008 European Film Award.
|Azerbaijan: “Fortress,” Shamil Nacafzada|
|Bangladesh: “Aha!,” Enamul Karim Nirjhar
Nirjhar’s film centers on a loner living in an ancestral mansion who is pressured by a real estate developer to give up the property for a housing development. Things get complicated when his daughter returns home. It screened in the Cinema of Asia program at the 2007 Dubai International Film Festival.
|Belgium: “Eldorado,” Bouli Lanners | Click here for film review
Lanners’ dark comedy, a road movie in which a car dealer comes to the aid of an incompetent young burglar, won honors from the Label of European Cinemas and the FIPRESCI international critics’ prize at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes.
|Bosnia and Herzegovina: “Snow” (Snijeg), Aida Begic | Click here for film review
This film, set in 1997, examines life in a postwar society, mainly from the perspective of two women whose husbands died in the conflict that ripped apart Yugoslavia. It won the Critics Week grand prize at the 2008 Festival de Cannes and screened in Toronto’s Discovery section.
|Brazil: “Last Stop 174” (Ultima Parada 174), Bruno Barreto | Click here for film review
This Portuguese-language drama revolves around a mother and son who get caught up in the June 2000 hijacking of a bus in Rio de Janeiro (the same incident Jose Padilha depicted in his 2002 documentary “Bus 174”). “Last Stop” made its first stop on the fest circuit with a world premiere at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival.
|Bulgaria: “Zift,” Javor Gardev
Gardev won the Special Jury Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival for his film about a parolee who spent time in prison after a wrongful conviction and now struggles to find his footing in Sofia in the 1960s.
|Canada: “The Necessities of Life,” Benoit Pilon
Documentary filmmaker Pilon’s debut fiction feature received the Montreal World Film Festival’s Special Grand Prix award. The drama, which centers on an Inuit man suffering from tuberculosis in 1950s Quebec, also took home the festival’s audience award for most popular Canadian film.
|Chile: “Tony Manero,” Pablo Larrain | Click here for film review
Centering on a serial killer obsessed with John Travolta’s character in “Saturday Night Fever” in 1978 Santiago, “Tony Manero” screened in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in May then made the trek to Toronto and the New York Film Festival.
|China: “Dream Weavers — Beijing 2008,” Gun Yu
This documentary of the seven-year preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics screened at the Shanghai International Film Festival in June.
|Colombia: “Dog Eat Dog” (Perro Come Perro), Carlos Moreno
This crime thriller was nominated for the grand jury prize in World Cinema at the Sundance Film Festival, and its star Marlon Moreno won the best actor award at the Guadalajara Mexican Film Festival.
|Croatia: “No One’s Son” (Niciji sin), Arsen A. Ostojic
Based on a play by Croatia’s Mate Matisic, this drama centers on a former rock singer who lost both legs in the Croatian Homeland War. It screened in the market at the Festival de Cannes and picked up five awards at the 2008 Pula Croatian and European Film Festival.
|Czech Republic: “Karamazovs” (Karamazovi), Petr Zelenka | Click here for film review
Zelenka’s adaptation of a Czech stage version of “The Brothers Karamazov” expands on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s theme of the moral responsibilities of intellectuals. It screened in competition at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and the BFI London Film Festival.
|Denmark: “Worlds Apart” (To verdener), Niels Arden Oplev
The Tribeca Film Festival chose this Jehovah’s Witness drama for its 30-film Discovery section in 2008. The film, which centers on a teen who must choose between her religion and pursuing a relationship with a nonbeliever, had its international premiere in the Generation 14 Plus sidebar at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival.
|Egypt: “The Island” (El Gezira), Sherif Arafa
One of Egypt’s two biggest commercial successes of 2008, this dramatic thriller revolves around a community of drug lords and the political conflict that results when the government intervenes. The film topped the National Festival for Cinema Awards, the Egyptian equivalent of the Oscars, including best actor and best actress.
|Estonia: “I Was Here” (Mina olin siin), Rene Vilbre
Vilbre’s film about an elite school student drawn to dealing drugs screened in competition at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 2008.
|Finland: “The Home of Dark Butterflies” (Tummien perhosten koti), Dome Karukoski
Based on the Leena Lander novel, “Butterflies” centers on a troubled teen who lands in an isolated home for boys and falls in love with the daughter of its strict disciplinarian. It screened at the Moscow International Film Festival and had its U.S. premiere in October at the Mill Valley Film Festival in Northern California.
|France: “The Class” (Entre les murs), Laurent Cantet | Click here for film review
This junior high-set social drama, which won the 2008 Palme d’Or, is based on a book by ex-teacher Francois Begaudeau, who plays himself in the film. It also screened in the Zabaltegi-Pearls section at San Sebastian.
|Georgia: “Mediator,” Dito Tsintsadze
Tsintsadze portrays the villain in his thriller — filmed in English, Russian and German — about an investigator whose career ends in a fiasco.
|Germany: “Der Baader Meinhof Komplex,” Uli Edel | Click here for film review
Edel’s controversial terrorist drama traces the bloody rise and fall of left-wing terrorist group the Red Army Faction and its attempt to topple the German state. The film had its international premiere at the Zurich Film Festival.
|Greece: “Correction” (Diorthosi), Thanos Anastopoulos
Anastopoulos’ film, which examines tensions between Greeks and Albanian immigrants, screened in the Berlin International Film Festival’s Forum sidebar in 2008. Giorgos Symeonidis won best actor at the Thessaloniki Film Festival for his portrayal of a man recently released from prison in contemporary Athens.
|Hungary: “Iska’s Journey,” Csaba Bollok
Since its debut at the 2007 Berlinale, this story of human trafficking has been a public favorite on the international festival circuit. It won the best actress prize for its teenage cast — all street kids with no professional experience — at the Brussels European Film Festival. It also nabbed an award for best art house film at Hungarian Film Week in 2007.
|Hong Kong: “Painted Skin” (Wa pei), Donnie Yen | Q&A with Donnie Yen
In this Mandarin-language supernatural thriller, a ghost uses human skin to transform into a beautiful woman. The film is the first in a trilogy of sites/default/files/2008/09/46917-white_night_wedding_150x100.jpg” />
|Iceland: “White Night Wedding” (Bruoguminn), Baltasar Kormakur | Click
|Slovakia: “Blind Loves” (Slepe lasky), Juraj Lehotsky | Click here for film review
The Directors’ Fortnight awarded the independent cinema programmers prize, the “Prix de la CICAE,” to this documentary about the relationships between blind people. The film also screened in competition at Karlovy Vary and joined the Toronto lineup in the fall.
|Slovenia: “Rooster’s Breakfast” (Petelinji Zajtrk), Marko Nabersnik
Nabersnik’s film revolves around the respective love affairs of an elderly garage owner and his apprentice, whose relationship with the wife of a local pimp puts him at risk.
|South Africa: “Jerusalema,” Ralph Ziman
A young Soweto man learns the ropes from a Russian-trained ex-ANC soldier in this gritty crime drama. The film screened in the Panorama section at the 2008 Berlinale.
|South Korea: “Crossing” (Keurosing), Kim Tae-gyun
Kim’s film — about a North Korean ex-soccer player crossing illegally into China and struggling to bring over his family — had been threatened in the Oscar race by an accusation of plagiarism brought by another Korean filmmaker. The charge was dismissed. “Crossing” screened in the market at the 2008 Festival de Cannes.
|Spain: “The Blind Sunflowers” (Los Girasoles Ciegos), Jose Luis Cuerda
Starring Maribel Verdu, this post-Spanish Civil War tale is based on the novel by Alberto Mendez.
|Sweden: “Everlasting Moments,” Jan Troell | Click here for film review
Picked up by IFC at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, the film brings Troell his third Oscar nomination — after best director and adapted screenplay noms for 1971’s “The Emigrants.” The story, based on a novel by Troell’s wife, centers on a female photographer in early 1900s Sweden.
|Switzerland: “The Friend” (Der Freund), Micha Lewinsky
The winner of the best film award at Swiss Film Week tells the story of a girl who asks a near-stranger to accompany her on a family function, then gets in an accident, leaving the boy to deal with the family, who thinks the two were close friends. It also screened at the 2007 Brussels Film Festival.
|Taiwan: “Cape No. 7,” Wei Te-sheng | Click here for film review
The romantic comedy, recently chosen to screen at October’s Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, made headlines in Taiwan when it topped the TWD100 million mark, prompting star Fan Yi Chen to skinny dip at a beach where much of the film was shot. The film, which tells the story of long-lost love after the surrender of Japan, won three awards at the 2008 Taipei Film Festival.
|Thailand: “Love of Siam” (Rak haeng Siam), Chookiat Sakveerakul
This drama, about a boy whose older sister disappears and the strain it puts on his relationship with his best friend, screened in the Philippines’ Cinemanila International Film Festival’s Southeast Asia Competition in 2008 and was nominated for two Asian Film Awards, for best supporting actor and best composer.
|Turkey: “Three Monkeys” (Uc Maymun), Nuri Bilge Ceylan | Click here for film review
Ceylan won best director at Cannes for “Monkeys,” which revolves around a family trying to stay together despite hardship.
|Ukraine: “Illusion of Fear,” Aleksandr Kiriyenko
This story of a businessman caught up in a corrupt legal system screened at the Festival de Cannes in 2008, the first year that Ukraine had a pavilion there.
|U.K.: “Hope Eternal,” Karl Francis
Francis’ love story, revolving around a nurse from Madagascar and a Welsh doctor working in the Congo, debuted at the Guardian Hay festival in May 2008.
|Uruguay: “Kill Them All” (Matar a Todos), Esteban Schroeder | Click here for film review
This political thriller about a woman investigating a case that involves her father won three prizes at the International Festival of New Latinoamerican Cinema and screened in competition at the 2007 San Sebastian International Film Festival.
|Venezuela: “The Color of Fame” (El Tinte de la Fama), Alejandro Bellame Palacios
A woman who enters a Marilyn Monroe look-alike contest at the behest of her husband enlists the help of a transvestite who sends her into an identity crisis while trying to transform her into the real Marilyn.
— Karen Nicoletti, Scott Roxborough and Ralf Ludemann
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