Foreign Films in Focus

Oscars: A Guide to All 91 Foreign-Language Submissions

9:30 AM 11/7/2019

by Tara Bitran, Patrick Brzeski, Alex Ritman, and Scott Roxborough

The freshly renamed category includes two countries (Ghana and Uzbekistan) that are submitting for the first time.

From left: Vietnam’s 'Furie'; Senegal’s 'Atlantics'; Norway’s 'Out Stealing Horses'; Belgium’s 'Our Mothers'; Portugal’s 'The Domain'; and Thailand’s 'Inhuman Kiss.'
From left: Vietnam’s 'Furie'; Senegal’s 'Atlantics'; Norway’s 'Out Stealing Horses'; Belgium’s 'Our Mothers'; Portugal’s 'The Domain'; and Thailand’s 'Inhuman Kiss.'

  • 'The Delegation'

    Albania

    Warsaw International Film Festival

    DIRECTOR Bujar Alimani

    In this dark absurdist comedy set in the late ’90s, Albania’s Communist regime is desperate to cling to a system that is obviously falling apart. Alimani’s feature takes the form of a road movie, following the haphazard journey of a political prisoner whose scheduled release does not go as planned.

  • 'Papicha'

    Alegeria

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    DIRECTOR Mounia Meddour

    Set during the Algerian civil war of the ’90s, which saw a rising Islamic movement drive a wave of conservatism, Papicha follows an 18-year-old fashion student determined to fight back against bans put in place by the radicals and enjoy a normal independent life. The first feature by Meddour — who herself left Algeria after her family was targeted with death threats during that period — debuted in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section in May.

  • 'Heroic Losers'

    Argentina

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Sebastián Borensztein

    An adaptation of Eduardo Sacheri’s novel La Noche de la Usina, Borensztein’s heist dramedy follows a group of rural neighbors under the leadership of former soccer player Fermin. The Robin Hood-esque tale, set during the country’s 2001 financial crisis, is currently the top local release in Argentina.

  • 'Lengthy Night'

    Armenia

    Sharm Holding

    DIRECTOR Edgar Baghdasaryan

    Baghdasaryan’s drama pivots around three stories set across a thousand years of Armenian history but playing out in a single night: from the modern day, in which a couple drives aimlessly around Yerevan at night, bickering about their relationship, back to the Armenian genocide of 1915 and even further, to the 11th century.

  • 'Buoyancy'

    Australia

    Courtesy of Berlin Film Festival

    DIRECTOR Rodd Rathjen

    Inspired by real events, this brutal yet realistic thriller, shot almost entirely at sea, is the story of Chakra, a Cambodian 14-year-old who leaves home in search of a better life, but finds himself enslaved on a fishing trawler. Buoyancy is the feature debut from writer-director Rathjen, and it picked up the ecumenical jury award when it premiered in competition at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival.

  • 'Alpha'

    Bangladesh

    Credit: Impress Telefilm

    DIRECTOR Nasiruddin Yousuff

    Alpha portrays the life of a rickshaw painter who lives on the outskirts of Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, and struggles to nourish his artistic aspirations. It's the third title from Yousuff, a well-known film and stage director who won Bangladesh's National Film Award for best director for his 2011 film Guerrilla.

  • 'Debut'

    Belarus

    VERZIO Film Festival

    DIRECTOR Anastasiya Miroshnichenko

    A rare documentary entry, Miroshnichenko's Debut looks at 11 female convicts who participate in a theater play inside the wall of one of the country's bleakest women's penitentiaries. It's a starkly personal look at the issue of mass incarceration.

  • 'Our Mothers'

    Belgium

    Courtesy of Need Productions

    DIRECTOR Cesar Diaz

    Belgium's entry is set in Guatemala, where director Diaz follows a forensic anthropologist tasked with collecting survivor testimonies from family members of those "disappeared" in the country's decades-long civil war. The twist: The anthropologist's own father is still among the vanished.​​ The film won the Camera d'Or in the Critics' Week section at Cannes.

  • 'Tu Me Manques'

    Bolivia

    Courtesy of Outfest Los Angeles

    DIRECTOR Rodrigo Bellott

    Bellott adapted his own play for Tu Me Manques, in which a man (Oscar Martínez) must deal with the suicide of his son Gabriel. The film premiered at L.A.'s Outfest in 2019 and won the grand jury prize for best screenplay.

  • 'The Son'

    Bosnia and Herzegovina

    DIRECTOR Ines Tanovic

    Tanovic — whose debut, Our Everyday Life, was her country's Oscar nominee in 2015 — returns with this sibling drama focused on a pair of stepbrothers: 14-year-old Dado is drawn into drug addiction and criminality in a bid to imitate and impress his 18-year-old adopted brother, Arman.

  • 'Invisible Life'

    Brazil

    BRUNO MACHADO.

    DIRECTOR Karim Aïnouz

    Winner of the Un Certain Regard competition at Cannes, Invisible Life is inspired by Aïnouz's childhood memories of his single mother's hardships in Rio, as well as being based on the novel by Martha Batalha.

  • 'Ága'

    Bulgaria

    Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival

    DIRECTOR Milko Lazarov

    Lazarov's family drama is set in northern Siberia and follows Nanook and Sedna, a pair of elderly Yakut natives still living in the traditional manner, in a yurt on the icy tundra. When Sedna falls ill, Nanook sets off to find their estranged daughter, Ága, who left the family years earlier.

  • 'In the Life of Music'

    Cambodia

    Courtesy of Caylee So

    DIRECTORS Caylee So and Sok Visal

    A drama spanning three time periods — 1968, 1976 and 2007 — In the Life of Music traces romance before, during and after the murderous Killing Fields of the Communist Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s. The stories are connected by Sinn Sisamouth's pop song "Champa Battambang."

  • 'Antigone'

    Canada

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Sophie Deraspe

    Deraspe's retelling of the classic Greek tragedy, set in modern-day Quebec, follows the eponymous Antigone (Nahéma Ricci), who defies the law to help her brother escape from prison. Canada has racked up eight Oscar nominations to date, but still has only one win: for Denys Arcand's Les Invasions Barbares in 2004.

  • 'Spider'

    Chile

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Andrés Wood

    The political thriller is the director's third Oscar bid for Chile, after his 2012 Sundance winner, Violeta Went to Heaven, and 2004's Machuca, which premiered at Cannes. Spider highlights a troupe of right-wing radicals as their paths crisscross on the cusp of a coup d'état in Chile in the early '70s.

  • 'Ne Zha'

    China

    Coloroom Studios

    DIRECTOR Yu Yang (known as Jiaozi)

    An innovative take on a well-known work of classical Chinese mythology, this 3D animated film tells the coming-of-age story of a young boy among the gods who finds himself a feared outcast because a divine prophecy says he will bring destruction to the world. Facing a stark choice between good and evil, he rejects his fate to become a hero. The film and its underdog story clicked with the Chinese audience to earn $701 million. The film's first-time writer and director, Yang Yu, who goes by the nickname Jiaozi (which means "dumpling"), subsequently became an overnight inspiration in China in his own right. The 38-year-old filmmaker dropped out of pharmacy school with the long-shot dream of becoming an animator, and then spent years living with his parents and teaching himself the craft of animation.

  • 'Monos'

    Colombia

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    DIRECTOR Alejandro Landes

    Landres won the special jury award in the world cinema dramatic competition at Sundance with his third feature, Monos. Julianne Nicholson stars in the thriller as an American woman held hostage by a teenage group of guerrilla members making their way through a South American jungle. The film won top honors at the London Film Festival.

  • 'The Awakening of the Ants'

    Costa Rica

    Courtesy of Solita Films

    DIRECTOR Antonella Sudasassi Furniss

    The cult of domesticity receives a shock to the system in The Awakening of the Ants. As young housewife Isa (Daniella Valenciano) re-evaluates what she wants out of life as opposed to the pressures put upon her to manage a home and maintain the family hearth, her surrealist dreams of independence blur into her reality.

  • 'Mali'

    Croatia

    Courtesy Propeler Film

    DIRECTOR Antonio Nuic

    Nuic's well-received family drama centers on Frenki, an ex-con released from prison who has to battle with his maternal grandparents for custody of his teenage son as his wife lies dying of cancer.

  • 'A Translator'

    Cuba

    DIRECTORS Rodrigo Barriuso, Sebastián Barriuso

    Rodrigo Santoro (Westworld) stars as the titular translator in this historical melodrama, which screened at Sundance and is based on the story of the sibling directors' father. An unknown slice of Cuban history, A Translator relays the story of a Russian literature professor who works as the go-between when child victims of Chernobyl are sent to Havana for medical treatment.

  • 'The Painted Bird'

    Czech Republic

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Václav Marhoul

    The adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski's controversial novel — about a young Jewish boy wandering alone in Nazi-occupied Poland — has divided audiences, drawing praise from some critics but also, largely due to its graphic onscreen violence, triggering mass walkouts in Venice and Toronto.

  • 'Queen of Hearts'

    Denmark

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    DIRECTOR May el-Toukhy

    Denmark's entry is an unsettling flip of the #MeToo narrative, featuring the amazing Trine Dyrholm (In a Better World) as a successful lawyer and mother who puts her career and family on the line when she sets out to seduce her 17-year-old stepson.

  • 'The Projectionist'

    Dominican Republic

    Courtesy of Faliro House/Tribeca Film Festival

    DIRECTOR José María Cabral

    Cabral's The Projectionist follows Eliseo (Félix Germán) as he sojourns across the nation to screen his films. Premiering at the Miami Film Festival, the feature pays homage to the craft of pre-digital cinema.

  • 'The Longest Night'

    Ecuador

    DIRECTOR Gabriela Calvache

    Calvache's debut feature had its world premiere at SXSW. The film explores the life of Dana (Noëlle Schönwald) who turns to prostitution to survive, and then attempts to gain freedom from her life of oppression.

  • 'Poisonous Roses'

    Egypt

    DIRECTOR Fawzi Saleh

    Egypt's latest attempt to earn its first nomination moves away from religion (2018 entry Sheikh Jackson) and political upheaval (2017's Clash), and instead shifts its lens to one of Cairo's poorest neighbourhoods. Saleh's feature debut, effectively a fictional spin off of his acclaimed 2010 documentary, Living Skin, centers on two siblings living with their mother amid the blackened streets of the tannery district: An overprotective sister devoted to her brother, and an unappreciative brother determined to escape.

  • 'Truth and Justice'

    Estonia

    Allfilm

    DIRECTOR Tanel Toom

    The 19th century period epic has become the most successful film of all time in tiny Estonia. Based on Anton Hansen Tammsaare's 1926 novel — considered Estonia's greatest work of literature — it follows the rivalry of two neighboring landowners: one upright, one villainous, and the struggle to bring truth and justice to a wild land.

  • 'Running Against the Wind'

    Ethiopia

    Courtesy of Mateusz Smolka

    DIRECTOR Jan Philipp Weyl

    To make Running Against the Wind — Ethiopia's official entry for the international feature Oscar — director Jan Philipp Weyl knew he would have to go the extra mile.

    As a white, European filmmaker — Weyl is German — he would also have to be accepted by the Ethiopian people as one of their own.

    "I know how it could be depicted, as this white guy coming to Africa to tell their story," Weyl says. "I needed to make this film as authentic as possible. To do that, I knew I had to become Ethiopian."

    Running Against the Wind is a coming-of-age tale about two boys from rural Ethiopia who travel very different paths. Abdi trains to be an Olympic runner, trying to emulate national hero and two-time Olympic gold medal winner Haile Gebrselassie (who has a cameo in the movie). Solomon, inspired by a European photographer he meets by chance, travels to the capital, Addis Ababa, where he drifts into poverty and petty crime. Fate will reunite the two friends, at a pivotal moment in both their lives.

    Weyl had the idea for Running Against the Wind more than a decade ago, when he was that photographer.

    Inspired by the late German actor and philanthropist Karlheinz Böhm — who had come to his high school to talk about his charity work in Ethiopia — Weyl had set up his own foundation. He raised tens of thousands of dollars to fund new schools in the country's poorest regions. In 2005 he visited the country. And he brought his digital camera.

    "I took a picture of two boys and showed it to them. It was the first time they had ever seen an image of themselves," Weyl recalls. "One boy recognized his friend but couldn't see himself in the image. The other snatched my camera and tried to get the photograph out of the display."

    The scene is reproduced in Running Against the Wind, with Weyl himself playing the photographer. But to get from that moment back in 2005 to the finished film, Weyl immersed himself in Ethiopia, in the culture, the language and the people.

    "You know method acting? Well, I became a method director," he says. "To understand these characters, I learned their language, I worked on the streets, I trained to become a runner."

    Weyl even spent six weeks working as a garbageman in Addis Ababa — like his character Solomon in the film. "I ate leftovers from the bins, like the rest of the collection gang," he recalls. "When we came back to shoot the film, people there remembered the white guy garbageman."

    In making Running Against the Wind over the past 11 years, Weyl has become fluent in Amharic — one of Ethiopia's eight major languages — and has put down roots. He's married to an Ethiopian woman and they have a son together.

    And in March, Ethiopia accepted him as one of their own. The country's Ministry of Culture and Tourism selected Running Against the Wind as its submission for the 2020 Academy Awards — the first time the country has ever given its official backing for an Oscar contender.

    "It's the greatest honor I could have imagined. To be recognized by Ethiopia as an Ethiopian filmmaker," says Weyl. "My biggest dream now is to bring an Oscar home to my beloved adopted country."

  • 'Stupid Young Heart'

    Finland

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Selma Vilhunen

    A tale of young love set against Finland's neo-Nazi scene, Stupid Young Heart follows the mismatched high school sweethearts Lenni and Kiira — he's a skateboard punk, she's the popular captain of the dance team — who get drawn toward the far-right when Lenni finds an ersatz father figure in a charismatic neo-Nazi leader.

  • 'Les Misérables'

    France

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Ladj Ly

    When documentary director Ly released footage of local police brutality he had accidentally caught on tape, it triggered an investigation, led to the firings of the cops in question, and inspired the French filmmaker to make his first feature. The nonstop thriller, which lays bare the simmering tensions in the Parisian suburbs between the mostly white police force and the mostly black and Arab local residents, won a jury prize at Cannes.

  • 'Shindisi'

    Georgia

    Courtesy of 20 Steps Productions

    DIRECTOR Dito Tsintsadze

    Tsintsadze's drama about the 2008 August War — when Georgia invaded the breakaway state of South Ossetia, sparking a war with Russia, who intervenes in support of the separatists — has uncomfortable echoes with current headlines out of Ukraine, a country engaged in a similar conflict with Moscow.

  • 'System Crasher'

    Germany

    Courtesy of kineo Films and Weydemann Bros.

    DIRECTOR Nora Fingscheidt

    Fingscheidt's drama, winner of a Silver Bear in Berlin, centers on an out-of-control child — played by star-in-the-making Helena Zengel — whose outbursts of rage and violence overwhelm the system of social services built to control her.

  • 'Azali'

    Ghana

    Courtesyof Ananse Entertainment

    DIRECTOR Kwabena Gyansah

    With Azali, Ghana submitted its first-ever Oscar entry. In her debut performance, Asana Alhassan stars as 14-year-old Amina, as she travels from a village in Northern Ghana to capital city Accra. Ghana has become a production hub to such films as Beasts of No Nation and Forgiving Earth.

  • 'When Tomatoes Met Wagner'

    Greece

    Courtesy of Rise and Shine World Sales

    DIRECTOR Marianna Economou

    Economou's documentary about a family of Greek organic farmers — who hit on the idea of playing German classical music to their crops — plays like a bittersweet comedy that is also an examination of the impact of globalization on local culture and tradition.

  • 'Blood, Passion and Coffee'

    Honduras

    DIRECTOR Carlos Membreño

    Written and directed by Membreño, Blood, Passion, and Coffee takes inspiration from real events and revolves around a Marcala, Honduras, family's legacy trade of coffee farming. Facing strife from difficult harvests as well as the pains of life and death and managing a family business, they find the strength of their bond put to the test.

  • 'The White Storm 2: Drug Lords'

    Hong Kong

    Courtesy of Universe Films Distribution Company

    DIRECTOR Herman Yau

    An escapist exercise in the crime thriller genre Hong Kong has always been known for, The White Storm 2: Drug Lords is a pseudo-sequel produced by and starring pan-Asian superstar Andy Lau as a billionaire anti-drug vigilante who faces off against a drug kingpin played by Hong Kong's busiest actor, Louis Koo. The film represents prolific Hong Kong director Yau's first stab at Oscars glory in his career of 30-plus years. White Storm 2 became a local box office hit despite Hong Kong's unprecedented summer of protests.

  • 'Those Who Remained'

    Hungary

    Telluride Film Festival

    DIRECTOR Barnabas Toth

    A rare post-Holocaust drama, Hungary's entry is a touching, tender tale of two Holocaust survivors — a 42-year-old doctor who lost his family in the camps and a 16-year-old girl traumatized by the brutality she has seen — whose chaste but deeply intimate connection saves them both.

  • 'A White, White Day'

    Iceland

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Hlynur Palmason

    Police chief Ingimundur (Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson) unravels after his wife dies in a strange accident in this disturbing look at trauma and loss that also plays as an investigative thriller, as Ingimundur begins to suspect his late wife was having an affair with a younger colleague.

  • 'Gully Boy'

    India

    Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival

    DIRECTOR Zoya Akhtar

    While India's Oscar entries in recent years have mostly originated from the country's indie scene, Gully Boy features some of mainstream Bollywood's biggest names, both in front of and behind the camera. Director Akhtar has major commercial hits to her credit, such as Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, but with Gully Boy she tackles an offbeat subject: India's underground hip-hop scene. The film stars Bollywood star Ranveer Singh as an aspiring rapper, while Alia Bhatt adds more star power as his love interest. Gully Boy also received some genuine U.S. hip-hop cred thanks to Nas serving as an EP.

  • 'Memories of My Body'

    Indonesia

    Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

    DIRECTOR Garin Nugroho

    Indonesian director Garin Nugroho knew he was courting controversy from the moment he started work on the script. What he hadn't counted on was that the passions his film stirred would follow him wherever he went.

    "I thought there would be some noise but it might go away," says Nugroho. "Now it seems I just can't escape."

    Inspired by the real life of famed Indonesian dancer Rianto, Memories of My Body follows an abandoned young boy as he searches for a sense of identity, alone at first and later as part of a dance troupe that allows him the freedom to express himself artistically — and sexually. There's a poignancy arrived at through the fact that Rianto — who, as a gay man in Indonesia, faced such struggles in real life — provides narration and appears as himself late in the film.

    Following its April release, the film faced bans and online backlash in the ultraconservative Muslim country. One city administration accused it of promoting "deviant sexual acts and blasphemy."

    There has also been praise, however, from within the country and from international critics who caught the film as it traveled the fest circuit (THR's Clarence Tsui called it a "moving piece of physical and political drama"). Given all the controversy, it came as a major surprise to Nugroho when, in September, the Indonesian Film Selection Committee chose Memories of My Body as the country's official submission in the Oscars' international feature film category.

    "This is a very good sign for cinema in Indonesia," says the 58-year-old Nugroho. "The content of the film is in the middle of society, the middle of our reality. People can relate to this story, unless their views are extreme, and I don't think we can ever give in to extreme ways of thinking."

    Memories of My Body — backed by Fourcolours Films and Go-Studio — had its premiere at Venice in 2018, picking up the prize for best film in the Horizon section, before it was handed the 2018 Asia Pacific Screen Awards Cultural Diversity Award.

    "The film has faced opposition, but I think we have also seen positive signs for freedom of expression and positive support from around the world," says Nugroho. "The negative forces that you face are simply the consequences you face as an artist."

  • 'Finding Farideh'

    Iran

    Courtesy of Berlinale Talents

    DIRECTORS Azadeh Moussavi, Kourosh Ataee

    Having claimed the top prize in 2011 and 2016 with Ashgar Farhadi dramas, Iran has for the first time selected a documentary to represent it at the Oscars. The film — which earned strong praise on the festival circuit — follows Eline Farideh, who journeys to Iran to find her biological parents after having been abandoned 40 years earlier and adopted by a Dutch couple who saw her in an Tehran orphanage.

  • 'Gaza'

    Ireland

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    DIRECTORS Garry Keane, Andrew McConnell


    Keane and McConnell's Arab-language documentary was shot inside the Gaza Strip and focuses on the intimate details of locals who are plagued by decades of conflict but determined not to be defined by it.

  • 'Incitement'

    Israel

    'Incitement'
    'Incitement'
    Courtesy of Westend Films

    DIRECTOR Yaron Zilberman

    Israel's entry — a look at the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin from the perspective of his killer, a young Orthodox law student inflamed by right-wing propaganda — is certain to be among the most hotly debated films of this year's awards season.

  • 'The Traitor'

    Italy

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTORS Marco Bellocchio

    A true-tale mafia drama based on the life of Tommaso Buscetta (played by Pierfrancesco Favino), one of the first members of the Sicilian mob to break the code of Omertà and inform on his fellow criminals.

  • 'Weathering With You'

    Japan

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Makoto Shinkai

    The coming-of-age, magical-realist anime is Shinkai's follow-up to his 2016 smash hit Your Name, which earned $358 million worldwide. The film's selection marks the first time since Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke in 1998 that Japan has put forward an anime in the best international feature film category. It follows a teenage boy who moves to the big city and meets a young woman who can alter the weather, at a time when Japan is suffering from excessive rainfall.

  • 'Golden Throne'

    Kazakhstan

    Courtesy of CеntauRus

    DIRECTOR Rustem Abdrashev

    Game of Thrones-style swashbuckler set in 15th century Kazakh Khanate, Abdrashev's feature is the second in a series of patriotic nation-building tales — following Diamond Sword two years ago — that have also been produced as a TV series.

  • 'Subira'

    Kenya

    Courtesy of Rushlake Media

    DIRECTOR Ravneet Chadha

    Based on an award-winning 2007 short of the same name, Subira centers on Brenda Wairimu's lead turn as a young woman brushing up against tradition to pursue her own dreams. Shot in English and Swahili, Chadha's coming-of-age feature is Kenya's fourth submission to the Academy's foreign-language category.

  • 'Zana'

    Kosovo

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Antoneta Kastrati

    Traumatized by the loss of her first child — and the civil war that ravaged her country — Lume is desperate to get pregnant again. When modern medicine fails, she turns to the folk wisdom of a local healer, undergoing elaborate exorcism rituals to rid her of the black magic believed to be causing her infertility.

  • 'Aurora'

    Kyrgyzstan

    Courtesy of Bekzat Pirmatov

    DIRECTOR Bekzat Pirmatov

    Arguably the weirdest of this year's entries, Pirmatov's postmodern fable is set over a single day in a sanatorium up in the mountains, a resort that stands in as a mirror for all of Kyrgyzstan. In a series of bizarre, disconnected episodes, the director weaves an absurdist tale that takes delight in constantly tripping up the viewer.

  • 'The Mover'

    Latvia

    Courtesy of National Film Center Latvia

    DIRECTOR Davis Simanis Jr.

    A period piece firmly in the Oscar tradition of Holocaust drama, Simanis' second fiction follows a child growing up in a family that risks everything to try and save Jews faced with certain annihilation.

  • '1982'

    Lebanon

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Oualid Mouaness

    Nadine Labaki, who directed the 2018 Oscar nominated film Capernaum (which is now the most successful Arab film of all time), gets back in front of the camera for Mouaness' debut feature. Set against the invasion of Lebanon by Israeli forces in the summer of 1982, the film takes place over a single day, and revolves around an 11-year-old boy who is anxious about winning over his school crush.

  • 'Bridges of Time'

    Lithuania

    DIRECTORS Kristine Briede, Audrius Stonys

    A doc essay on the poets of the Baltic New Wave, this Latvian hopeful might be the definition of a long shot for an Oscar nomination, though Briede's debut, made with veteran documentarian Stonys, drew critical praise at its premiere at the Karlovy Vary festival last year.

  • 'Tel Aviv on Fire'

    Luxembourg

    Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

    DIRECTOR Sameh Zoabi

    One of the few comedies in the running, Zoabi's feature (shot in Luxembourg) centers on a Palestinian man who becomes a writer on a popular soap opera after a chance meeting with an Israeli soldier.

  • 'M for Malaysia'

    Malaysia

    Courtesy of Project M Media

    DIRECTORS Dian Lee, Ineza Roussille

    Malaysia's first documentary ever to be submitted for the international film Oscar, it sheds light on the various events and players involved in the Malaysian general election of 2018, which ended with former prime minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad returning to power after the fall of Najib Razak in the global 1Malaysia Development Berhad corruption scandal. The movie is directed and produced by Roussille and Lee, and would become Malaysia's first-ever Oscar contender if shortlisted.

  • 'The Chambermaid'

    Mexico

    Courtesy of Alpha Violet

    DIRECTOR Lila Avilés

    Avilés' first feature peers into the life of a maid working in a luxury hotel. The drama is based on a play, which was partly inspired by Sophie Calle's book of photographs, The Hotel. Avilés could make history as the first female director to land the nomination for Mexico.

  • 'The Steed'

    Mongolia

    DIRECTOR Erdenebileg Ganbold

    Set in the early 20th century during the Russian Revolution's incursion into the Mongolia steppes, The Steed tells an epic story of family, love, devotion and kinship through the experiences of a boy and his loyal horse. Ganbold's feature won the Spirit of Cinema Award at Germany's Oldenburg Film Festival.

  • 'Neverending Past'

    Montenegro

    Courtesy of Zillion Film

    DIRECTOR Andro Martinovic

    Martinovic's debut feature is a three-part drama following three fathers in different time periods who are linked by the fateful decisions they make. It premiered at the Montreal World Film Festival last year.

  • 'Adam'

    Morocco

    'Adam'
    'Adam'
    Kino Lorber

    DIRECTOR Maryam Touzani

    Bowing in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, Touzani's Adam centers not on Adam, but on young, unwed and pregnant Samia (Nissrine Erradi), who finds solace in the home of a widow, Abla (Lubna Azabal). Adam is the first film by a female director selected for submission by Morocco.

  • 'Bulbul'

    Nepal

    Courtesy of Awaken Productions

    DIRECTOR Binod Paudel

    Paudel's debut feature stars Swastima Khadka as a female truck driver who battles myriad challenges, from patriarchy to health care, as she struggles to make a living in the country's capital city of Kathmandu. Bulbul picked up multiple honors at Nepal's National Film Awards, winning the best director prize for Paudel and the best actress trophy for Khadka.

  • 'Instinct'

    Netherlands

    Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

    DIRECTOR Halina Reijn

    For Instinct, her debut feature as a director, acclaimed Dutch actress Halina Reijn was able to call in favors to cast two of the biggest stars in the Netherlands — Carice van Houten (Game of Thrones) and Marwan Kenzari (Jafar in Disney's live-action Aladdin) to play the leads.

    Van Houten plays Nicoline, a prison psychologist tasked with assessing Idris (Kenzari), a serial rapist who is scheduled for imminent release. Against her better judgment, and any sense of professional decorum, Nicoline begins to fall for a man she has every reason to fear and despise.

    Getting van Houten and Kenzari to sign on for Instinct wasn't hard. Reijn and van Houten are best friends and co-producers on the film — the first project under their Man Up Productions banner, which aims to "explore darker, edgy stories that, through shame or fear, often remain untold" and to do so from a female perspective. "Carice was there from the beginning; it was clear she would play the lead," says Reijn. Kenzari came soon after. The problem came in getting both in the same room together to rehearse.

    "It was always hard to get ahold of them, they are always over in Hollywood or wherever for work," says Reijn. "Whenever we were all in the Netherlands at the same time, we'd get together to go over the script, to rehearse and prepare."

    Those rehearsals — a weekend here, an evening practice there — stretched over six years as Reijn and co-writer Esther Gerritsen worked out the Instinct script, incorporating improvisations from van Houten and Kenzari. These included a key turning point in the film and in the pair's developing sexual relationship, when Idris exposes himself to Nicoline and proceeds to urinate in front of her.

    "That was from Marwan. He made that up," says Reijn. "I wanted a physical moment between the two, and he said: 'He's like an animal, he should pee his territory.' This was years before we actually started shooting."

    Developing the script this way, over years, allowed Reijn to refine her characters and helped to avoid turning Instinct into "a cheesy or erotic thriller. It is very important that the audience can identify with both of them but that they are not 'likable' in a typical cliched or archetypical way."

    That took time. In the course of the rehearsals, the Idris character became less and less a violent monster and more and more vulnerable. "Which makes him, actually, more tempting, more seductive and, ultimately, more dangerous," says Reijn.

    Reijn approached the actual shoot — a tightly planned 23-day schedule — "like a military campaign — I prepared like crazy, every single detail, every single line, I left nothing to chance."

    The result of those years of careful planning is one of the most controversial debuts in years and arguably one of the most hotly debated films in the international features race.

    "What I want to say with this movie is that Nicoline and Idris are both victims and they are both perpetrators," says Reijn. "I want to have this ambiguity that when you leave the cinema you never know: Who started this and who's to blame? This is the discussion I wanted to provoke."

  • 'Honeyland'

    North Macedonia

    Samir Ljuma

    DIRECTORS Ljubo Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska

    This documentary on the last female bee-hunter in Europe — who struggles to protect her livelihood and the native bees from invading beekeepers — won the grand jury, cinematography and special jury awards in the world cinema documentary section at Sundance this year.

  • 'Out Stealing Horses'

    Norway

    Courtesy of Berlinale

    DIRECTOR Hans Petter Moland

    Stellan Skarsgard, who also stars in the Czech Republic's World War II-era submission The Painted Bird, leads Moland's film. The reflective drama centers on Skarsgard's widower as he looks back on a defining summer of his life, in 1948 Nazi-occupied Norway. The film won a Silver Bear in Berlin and swept Norway's Amanda Awards.

  • 'Laal Kabootar'

    Pakistan

    Courtesy of Geo Films/Nehr Ghar Films

    DIRECTOR Kamal Khan

    This crime thriller explores the dark underbelly of the country's port city of Karachi. The film follows Aliya (Mansha Pasha) as a journalist whose husband (Ali Kazmi) is killed in broad daylight. In her quest for justice, she finds an unexpected ally in a struggling taxi driver who wants to move to Dubai at any cost. It's the directorial debut of Khan, who made a name in local television and with music videos shot for some of Pakistan's top artists.

  • 'It Must Be Heaven'

    Palestine

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Elia Suleiman

    Somewhere around the middle of It Must Be Heaven, Elia Suleiman's fourth feature and his first in a decade, there's a line that perhaps conveys the entire message behind the typically deadpan comedy from Palestine's answer to Buster Keaton.

    In a French film company's minimalist white office, Suleiman ­— playing himself as the central character — is told by a producer (played by his actual sales agent, Wild Bunch boss Vincent Maraval) that, despite the company being "sympathetic to the Palestinian cause," his latest script simply "isn't Palestinian enough" to support.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, this came from a genuine experience, one Suleiman says he had while in Paris pitching his 1996 debut feature, Chronicle of a Disappearance.

    "They were sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but would simply never believe that I'm Palestinian — to have written such a script, with Palestinians who were laughing and having a good time," he says. "There was no police killing anybody. There are no victims. Their preconception was that Palestinians would have to exercise the right for self-victimization. I was thrown out of production companies for being fake."

    There are no victims in It Must Be Heaven either, a Palestinian film that includes just one brief reference to the Israeli occupation (two Israeli soldiers swapping sunglasses and posing in their car mirror while a blindfolded young Palestinian woman sits in the back). In Suleiman tradition, it flows as a series of comic vignettes, with the director-writer-star — never without his trademark straw hat — coolly watching the absurdities of society around him (he speaks only three words in the film). For the first time, however, the Nazareth-born filmmaker shifts the focus away from his homeland, first to Paris and then to New York.

    The absurdities, however, aren't left behind; if anything, they escalate. In one Paris scene, a trio of policemen on Segways perform a beautifully choreographed near-dance as they hunt for a man on the streets; in the U.S., Suleiman comes out of a supermarket to find everybody — men, women and children — nonchalantly carrying automatic weapons, the surreal sequence peaking with a man casually pulling a bazooka out of a car trunk (when asked how many guns he wanted, Suleiman told the prop department to "bring everything").

    The underlying premise, Suleiman says, is what he calls the "Palestinization of the world," where the chaos, violence and insanity that previously were confined to his own pressure-cooker territory have spilled out across the globe. And yet, despite this, it underlines how being Palestinian in a global context still comes with a certain degree of baggage and expectation (a New York taxi driver erupts in excitement on hearing his ride is Palestinian).

    As for the original dismissive producer (who's now "pretty famous"), it would appear Suleiman has had the last laugh. The director was later told by a friend that the producer was asked over dinner about his professional regrets and which film he most wished he'd made. Says Suleiman: "He said, Chronicle of a Disappearance."

  • 'Everybody Changes'

    Panama

    Courtesy Q-Films

    DIRECTOR Arturo Montenegro

    Everybody Changes, including those you love most. Montenegro's family drama sees Federico and Carol as parents of three children in an ideal home. But they must learn to adapt to Federico coming out as a transgender woman.

  • 'Retablo'

    Peru

    Courtesy of DAFO

    DIRECTOR Alvaro Delgado Aparicio

    Aparicio's first film won the L'Oréal Teddy newcomer award and a special mention from the Crystal Bear jury at Berlinale. Retablo sees a son (Junior Bejar Roca) enamored with his father Noe's (Amiel Cayo) mastery of crafting retablos (ornate story-boxes), hoping to follow in the family tradition. The film is spoken mostly in the local ingidneous language of Quechua.

  • 'Verdict'

    Philippines

    COURTESY OF CLAUDIA TOMASSINI + ASSOCIATES

    DIRECTOR Raymund Ribay Gutierrez

    The feature debut of 26-year-old filmmaker Gutierrez, Verdict focuses on the tragically commonplace problem of domestic violence in the Philippines. It stars Max Eigenmann and the late Kristoffer King, and was produced by Gutierrez's mentor, local industry veteran Brillante Mendoza. Gutierrez has said the film was inspired by a real act of domestic violence he witnessed among his neighbors in Manila. The Philippines has never received an Oscar nomination.

  • 'Corpus Christi'

    Poland

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Jan Komasa

    Issues of true faith versus fakery run through Komasa's slow-burning drama about a young ex-con who, after experiencing a spiritual awakening in prison, passes himself off as a priest in a community still reeling from tragedy.

  • 'The Domain'

    Portugal

    Courtesy of Venice International Film Festival

    DIRECTOR Tiago Guedes

    Part Giant, part Wuthering Heights, this drama is an epic tale of a family of wealthy landowners and their struggle to weather the country's political upheavals, from the 1940s through the 1990s.

  • 'The Whistlers'

    Romania

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Corneliu Porumboiu

    Porumboiu's latest is a thrilling neo-noir about a crooked cop brought by the mob to the Canary Islands, where he must learn the local (and quite genuine) tradition of silbo whistling — the art of communicating in a whistled version of Spanish — that the mobsters use as a code that the police can't crack.

  • 'Beanpole'

    Russia

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Kantemir Balagov

    From the producers of Oscar nominees Leviathan and Loveless comes this female-focused tale about a young woman returning from World War II with a 3-year-old child. Beanpole was a critical smash in Cannes, where it won best director honors in the Un Certain Regard sidebar as well as the international critics' FIPRESCI award.

  • 'The Perfect Candidate'

    Saudi Arabia

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Haifaa Al-Mansour

    Saudi Arabia's first female director narrowly missed out on a nomination for her 2012 debut Wadjda (also the kingdom's first ever submission), but returns with another quietly powerful examination of a male-dominated society, one that may have undergone some recent cultural shifts but still has some way to go. The Perfect Candidate centers on a young female doctor who upsets the patriarchal apple cart by standing in her local council elections to fix a road leading to her surgery. Most notably, the film is the first to be shot in Saudi Arabia since the country lifted a 35-year ban on theaters, and was the first to be awarded funding by its newly established Film Council.

  • 'Atlantics'

    Senegal

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Mati Diop

    Atlantics made history before its Cannes premiere (and eventual Grand Prix win) as the first film by a black female director to be selected for competition. Acquired by Netflix, Diop's debut centers on a blossoming love story between exploited construction worker Souleiman (Ibrahima Traore) and Ada (Mama Sane), who is looking down the pike at an unwanted arranged marriage.

  • 'King Peter I'

    Serbia

    Courtesy of Sofest

    DIRECTOR Petar Ristovski

    An origin story for King Peter the First, ruler of Serbia from 1903 to 1921, Ristovski's drama follows the king from when he was banished from Serbia as a young man to his return, when he helped secure parliamentary democracy for his homeland.

  • 'A Land Imagined'

    Singapore

    Courtesy of Films de Force Majeure

    DIRECTOR Yeo Siew Hua

    Yeo's thriller charts the efforts of a police officer investigating a lonely construction worker who goes missing. The mystery topped the 2018 Locarno Film Festival, also nabbing junior jury and special mention honors. A Land Imagined also played the Singapore International Film Festival and won for best Asian feature film, a first for a Singaporean film.

  • 'Let There Be Light'

    Slovakia

    Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

    DIRECTOR Marko Skop

    A Slovakian man returns home from his construction job in Germany to his family at Christmas only to discover his son has joined a paramilitary group in this drama from director Skop, which premiered at the Karlovy Vary festival.

  • 'History of Love'

    Slovenia

    Courtesy of Karlovy Vary IFF

    DIRECTOR Sonja Prosenc

    A deaf teenager uncovers painful family secrets after her mother dies in this sophomore feature from director Prosenc, whose debut, The Tree, was Slovenia's Oscar contender in 2016.

  • 'Knuckle City'

    South Africa

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Jahmil X.T. Qubeka

    Two years in a row, Qubeka's films have been selected for submission, with 2018's Sew the Winter to My Skin and this year's Knuckle City. The boxing drama, which screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, won the best actor prize for Bongile Mantsai at South Africa's Durban Film Festival. The film is a tale of two brothers, one an aging pro boxer and the other a career-criminal, who have followed in their legendary fighter-turned-gangster father's footseps on diverging paths that convene for one last shot at fame.

  • 'Parasite'

    South Korea

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Bong Joon Ho

    The South Korean master's seventh feature, Parasite, became his country's first film to win the prestigious Cannes Palme d'Or when it premiered at the French festival in May. Well calibrated to the times, Bong's latest characteristically genre-bending film tells an alternately humorous and heartbreaking story around the theme of income inequality, following two families — one rich, the other poor — whose lives become surprisingly intertwined. No South Korean title has ever been nominated for an Oscar, but 2019 — the 100-year anniversary of the first Korean film, incidentally — could be the country's year, given the rave reviews Parasite has attracted across the globe (and its strong performance at the U.S. box office).

  • 'Pain and Glory'

    Spain

    Telluride Film Festival

    DIRECTOR Pedro Almodóvar

    Pain and Glory is the seventh film from the esteemed Spanish helmer to enter the Oscar race in the international feature category for Spain, setting a national record. The autobiographical story of a director looking back on his life and career stars Antonio Banderas (who won best actor on the Croisette) and Penélope Cruz.

  • 'And Then We Danced'

    Sweden

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    DIRECTOR Levan Akin

    Akin's Georgian-set feature follows a young dancer struggling with the confines of tradition and the pull of forbidden love (in his culture), when he finds himself attracted to his main rival in the dancing company. It premiered in Cannes Directors' Fortnight sidebar.

  • 'Wolkenbruch's Wondrous Journey Into the Arms of a Shiksa'

    Switzerland

    @DCM

    DIRECTOR Michael Steiner

    A Swiss-Jewish comedy about an Orthodox boy who falls for a non-Jewish girl, despite his family's warnings of the dangers of Shiksas. Wolkenbruch premiered in Zurich last year and was a commercial hit in Switzerland.

  • 'Dear Ex'

    Taiwan

    DEAR Studio

    DIRECTORS Mag Hsu, Hsu Chih-Yen

    Released six months before same-sex marriage became legal in Taiwan — a first for any Asian territory — this gay-themed drama revolves around a widow's discovery that her husband's insurance payout will go to his secret gay lover. Co-directed by veteran TV writer Mag Hsu and newcomer Hsu Chih-Yen, the film screened at events in Taipei, Busan and Macau, and won a slew of prizes at 2018's Taiwan Golden Horse Awards before Netflix picked it up.

  • 'Inhuman Kiss'

    Thailand

    Courtesy of Nakid

    DIRECTOR Sittisiri Mongkolsiri

    Thailand's Inhuman Kiss is that rare horror title to receive Oscar consideration in the best international film category. Directed by Mongkolsiri, the film picks up on the ancient kra sue myth of a seemingly normal-by-day girl whose head becomes detached from her body by night and then sets off looking for flesh on which to feast. The film stars Phantira Pipityakorn and Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang and was a box office hit in Thailand before getting picked up for global streaming by Netflix.

  • 'Dear Son'

    Tunisia

    Courtesy of Cannes

    DIRECTOR Ben Attia

    One of many recent films examining the horrors inflicted by ISIS, Dear Son (Weldi in Arabic) moves the grief well away from the battlegrounds of Iraq or Syria. In Attia's second feature following his award-winning Hedi, a middle-class Tunisian couple discover that their beloved only son has disappeared to join the terror group in its so-called caliphate, and follows a distraught father determined to bring his boy back home. Dear Son first bowed in the Directors' Fortnight competition at Cannes in 2018.

  • 'Commitment' ('Baglilik Asli')

    Turkey

    DIRECTOR Semih Kaplanoglu

    A young mother's life is transformed when she asks another recent mom to be her nanny in this drama from director Kaplanoglu, whose Berlin Golden Bear winner Honey was Turkey's Oscar contender in 2010.

  • 'Homeward'

    Ukraine

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    DIRECTOR Nariman Aliev

    A father and son transport the body of their departed son and brother from Kiev to Crimea in this debut feature from Aliev. Homeward premiered in Cannes' Un Certain Regard sidebar and is looking to be Ukraine's first-ever Oscar nomination.

  • 'The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind'

    United Kingdom

    Ilze Kitshoff/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    DIRECTOR Chiwetel Ejiofor

    The Oscar-nominated actor is flexing his creative muscles behind the camera for the first time. Set and shot in Malawi, the Netflix film charts the inspirational true story of a young schoolboy who rose to fame after constructing a makeshift wind turbine and helping lift his family and community out of the country's worst famine in 50 years.

  • 'The Moneychanger'

    Uruguay

    Courtesy of TIFF

    DIRECTOR Federico Veiroj

    Uruguay's most in-demand actor-director, Daniel Hendler, stars as zealous moneymaker Humberto Brause, who throws himself into the family business of buying and selling currency. But once he takes over, he takes on the task of laundering the largest sum of money he has ever encountered. The 1970s-era thriller, also featuring Argentina's Dolores Fonzi, is Veiroj's fifth film.

  • 'Honey Bread'

    Uzbekistan

    DIRECTOR Umid Khamdamov

    Uzbekistan joins the Oscar race for the first time with this story about teenage Zulfiya reconciling her reality with what she really wants. While she lives with her mother in a small village, she yearns to live in the city where her mother works.

  • 'Being Impossible'

    Venezuela

    Courtesy of IFF Panama

    DIRECTOR Patricia Ortega

    Being Impossible is Ortega's second feature following 2013's El Regreso. In the drama, young seamstress Ariel (Lucía Bedoya) discovers she underwent numerous surgeries as a baby to correct her intersexual body, which ignites a desire in her to understand and embrace her gender identity. The film picked up six awards at the Venezuelan Film Festival, including best director, actress, supporting actress and screenplay.

  • 'Furie'

    Vietnam

    Credit: Studio 68

    DIRECTOR Le-Van Kiet

    Starring and produced by Veronica Ngo (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), Furie tells the story of a former gangster fighting to retrieve her daughter from the clutches of child traffickers. The action thriller was a favorite among international genre aficionados because of the way it showcases the unique skills of Vietnam's national martial art form, known as vovinam. It also became a historic hit at home, earning more than $8.6 million (200 billion dong), the most ever by a local film in Vietnam.

    This story first appeared in a November standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.