Oscars: Nine Titles Advance in Foreign Language Category

Sony Pictures Classics
'Son of Saul'

Hungary's 'Son of Saul' makes the cut, while Taiwan's 'The Assassin' is among the missing.

In the highly competitive foreign-language film Oscar race, the 80 films that were originally submitted have been whittled down to a shortlist of nine features from which the eventual five nominees will be chosen, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Thursday.

This year's shortlist is dominated by European submissions, with only two entries submitted by non-European countries making the cut: Ciro Guerra's Amazon jungle-set Embrace of the Serpent, from Colombia, and Naji Abu Nowar's Theeb, the story of a Bedouin boy and a British officer, from Jordan. However, the Irish entry Viva, from director Paddy Breathnach, actually takes place in Cuba and dramatizes the relationship between a young drag performer and his macho father, and the French entry, Mustang, directed by Deniz Gamze Erguven, is about five sisters living in a Turkish village.

Laszlo Nemes' holocaust drama Son of Saul, from Hungary, has to be considered one of the favorites of the field, since the film has already won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, along with a number of critics' awards. Other entries include Jaco Van Dormael's The Brand New Testament, an absurdist comedy about a vengeful God, from Belgium; Tobias Lindholm's A War, about a soldier in Afghanistan and the effect that his actions have on his life back home; Giulio Ricciarelli's Labyrinth of Lies, about the efforts in the 1950s to bring former Nazis to justice, from Germany; and Finland's entry, Klaus Haro's The Fencer, another '50s drama, this one set in Estonia that concerns a fencing instructor who is evading the Soviet secret police. The Fencer has also just been announced as the opening-night film at the upcoming Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Prominent among the films that didn't make the list was Taiwan's entry, Hou Hsiao-Hsien's martial-arts movie The Assassin, which earned Hou the best director award at Cannes and recently topped the Sight & Sound critics' poll as the top film of the year. Other titles that had been seen as potential competitors include Brazil's The Second Mother, Austria's Good Night Mommy and Sweden's A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, from director Roy Andersson, which won the Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, in 2014.

The shortlist was determined by committees composed of Academy members who viewed the submissions. Their top six choices were augmented by three additional selections voted by the Academy's foreign-language film award executive committee. Specially invited committees in New York, Los Angeles and London will now view the nine films on the shortlist, voting to determine which five will advance when nominees are announced Jan. 14.

The complete shortlist follows:

Belgium, The Brand New Testament, Jaco Van Dormael, director;
Colombia, Embrace of the Serpent, Ciro Guerra, director;
Denmark, A War, Tobias Lindholm, director;
Finland, The Fencer, Klaus Haro, director;
France, Mustang, Deniz Gamze Ergüven, director;
Germany, Labyrinth of Lies, Giulio Ricciarelli, director;
Hungary, Son of Saul, Laszlo Nemes, director;
Ireland, Viva, Paddy Breathnach, director;
Jordan, Theeb, Naji Abu Nowar, director.