Since 1956, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has invited national film commissions from around the world to submit their best film for the Foreign Language Oscar. The Academy's Foreign Language Film Award Committee winnows the submissions into a January shortlist of roughly ten films; from there, just five are nominated. Of the 71 total accolades, European countries have won 41 Foreign Language Oscars; only 26 nations have ever been represented onstage.
Coinciding with the 91st Academy Awards, and as a continuation of our first Foreign Language Oscar Submissions Series, Filmatique is hosting a diverse selection of works from national cinemas the Academy has historically marginalized. Filmatique's Foreign Language Oscar Submission II Series features daring and original works from Nepal, Bulgaria, New Zealand, Azerbaijan, Costa Rica and Serbia— films that embed local culture and identity in distinct visions that resonate beyond their borders. Although Nepal was nominated for the Foreign Language Oscar in 1999, for Caravan, the film had a French director. Bulgaria, New Zealand, Azerbaijan, Costa Rica, and Serbia have never been nominated.
Set high in the Himalayas, Deepak Rauniyar's White Sun traces a powerful allegory of Nepal's current societal fissures in a family's dispute over funeral rites, while Ilgar Najaf's Pomegranate Orchard inscribes Chekhov's generational politics in the sumptuous landscape of pastoral Azerbaijan. Ivaylo Hristov's Losers centers around a group of disaffected teenagers coming of age in Bulgaria— a self-reflexive portrait of a EU member state that still doesn't feel like it belongs. Tusi Tamasese's One Thousand Ropes portrays a Samoan man haunted by the violence of his past when it erupts in his present, while Costa Rican filmmaker Ariel Escalante's debut The Sound of Thing excavates the vicissitudes of a young woman's grief in small, observational moments that gain accumulative power. Marbled with black humor and style to spare, Bojan Vuletic's Requiem for Mrs. J depicts the Kafkaesque conundrum of a Serbian widow who finds it impossible even to die in the ex-Yugoslavian nation.
In a year that the Academy deemed cinematography and editing awards not worthy of broadcast, Filmatique's Foreign Language Oscar Submissions II Series offers an alternative vision of world cinema— a vast and diverse panorama of emerging talents across the globe, each invested in representing the social, cultural and/or political nuances of their respective nations. This series is intended to provide visibility to countries that have been, and remain, excluded not only from the increasingly-irrelevant Academy Awards, but the hierarchies of power they perpetuate and stand for as symbol.
Following the death of his father, Chandra returns to his remote mountain village on the ridges of Annapurna, having left to join Nepal's anti-regime Maoist forces nearly a decade before. Back home he is confronted not only by his Royalist brother, Suraj, but the question of how to properly bury his father, whose body remains stuck in the attic of his family home. Suraj and Chandra clash over the rigid caste and gender traditions Chandra fought to eliminate during the war— Suraj storms off, leaving his brother to deal with the funeral. Under pressure from the elders, Chandra seeks help from outside the village to carry his father's body to the river for cremation.
Set against the stunning backdrop of the Himalayas and balancing complex perspectives of a country suspended between tradition and modernity, its past and its future, White Sun weaves a powerful allegory for the cultural and political ideologies that continue to divide contemporary Nepal. Deepak Rauniyar's second feature premiered at Toronto, Rotterdam and Seattle; Venice, where it won the Interfilm Award; Palm Springs, where it won the New Voices/New Visions Grand Jury Prize; Singapore, where it won Best Asian Feature; and Fribourg, where it won both the Audience and the Ecumenical Jury Awards. White Sun was selected as the ninth Nepalese submission in history for the Best Foreign Language Film, at last year's Academy Awards, but was not nominated.
Losers, Ivaylo Hristov / Bulgaria, 2015
Teenage Koko lives in a nondescript town in Southern Bulgaria. His parents moved to Greece where the wages are higher, leaving Koko alone to care for his grandmother, an elderly and unwieldy woman with Alzheimer's. Koko is in love with Elena, an aspiring singer who seems only to care about a famous rock band scheduled to pass through town. On the night of the big event, the social fabric of the teens' provincial lives is thrown into disarray, paving the way for new constellations.
Featuring impressive performances from its cast of young actors, Losers offers an eccentric vision of friendship, family and growing up at the edges of Europe. Ivaylo Hristov's third feature premiered at Munich, Giffoni, Cyprus, and Zlín, where it won a Special Jury Mention; Moscow, where it won Best Film and the Russian Critics Award; the Love is Folly International Film Festival, where it won the FIPRESCI Prize; and Sofia, where it won the Audience Award. Losers won Best Film, Best Leading and Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Sound at the Bulgarian Academy Awards and was selected as the country's submission to the 89th Academy Awards. It was not nominated.
One Thousand Ropes, Tusi Tamasese / New Zealand, 2016
In his youth as a brave Samoan fighter, Maea went by the nickname 'the Lion.' Now he is a middle-aged baker living in suburban Wellington— and also an unlikely midwife, providing help to women whose pregnancies have made them vulnerable within their families or communities. One day Maea's own daughter arrives at his doorstep, herself pregnant and badly beaten. Haunted by his violent past, Maea must decide whether to seek revenge or negotiate a path of redemption.
Blending supernatural phenomenologies and a realist filmmaking approach, One Thousand Ropes is a finely-observed character portrait exploring the nuances of masculinity within New Zealand's marginalized Samoan community. Tusi Tamasese's second film premiered at Berlin, Stockholm, BFI London and Palm Springs. One Thousand Ropes was selected as the New Zealand entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards, but was not nominated.
Pomegranate Orchard, Ilgar Najaf / Azerbaijan, 2017
Shamil lives in rural Azerbaijan, on a tranquil farm surrounded by fields of ancient pomegranate trees. Old age has begun to take its toll and, sadly, his daughter-in-law Sara and her young son are unlikely candidates to continue his legacy. The decision to sell the farm weighs heavily on Shamil until his son Gabil returns home one day, after a twelve year absence. The toll Gabil's sudden disappearance exacted on his loved ones reveals itself incrementally, suspending the family in an uncertain future.
Studied in its approach to emotional wounds long since scarred over, Pomegranate Orchard translates Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard to the vivid landscapes of Azerbaijan, a country on the brink of its own transformation. Ilgar Najaf's second feature premiered at Karlovy Vary, Cairo, Tallinn Black Nights, Fajr; Minsk, where it won Best Screenplay; Malatya, where it won Best Film; and the Eurasian International Film Festival, where it won the Jury Award. Pomegranate Orchard also won the Young Cinema Award at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, and was selected as the seventh Azerbaijani submission in history for the Foreign Language Oscar. It was not nominated.
The Sound of Things, Ariel Escalante / Costa Rica, 2016
Claudia enjoys her job as a nurse. She takes the bus to work each morning and is content in her routine. But she secretly struggles to handle the recent suicide of her cousin Sylvia— who was also her roommate and best friend— even if she succeeds at hiding her pain from the outside world. When an old acquaintance re-enters Claudia's perfectly ordered life, however, she is finally forced to confront the depth of her grief.
An atmospheric portrait of a young woman adrift in the complex process of mourning, The Sound of Things finds in small, quotidian details their own form of pathos. Ariel Escalante's debut feature premiered at Mar del Plata, Biarritz, Panama, and Moscow, where it won the Kommersant Weekend Prize. The Sound of Things was selected as the sixth ever Costa Rican entry for the Best Foreign Language Film, at the 90th Academy Awards, but it was not nominated.
Requiem for Mrs. J, Bojan Vuletic / Serbia-Bulgaria-Republic of Macedonia-Russia-France-Germany, 2015
Jelena is depressed. Her husband has recently died, leaving her a widow. Her senile mother and vitriolic daughters only cause her grief. Jelena sees no use to keep on living and so secretly decides to kill herself on the anniversary of her husband's death. First, however, she must tie up some loose ends. Jelena visits offices of public administrative officials and the quarters of her old employer— a descent into a particularly drab purgatory. With her affairs finally sorted, Jelena's daughter then announces one last surprise.
A bone dry comedy set in the absurd monolith of Serbian bureaucracy, Requiem for Mrs. J is a Kafkaesque portrait of life and death in the former Yugoslavia. Bojan Vuletic's second film premiered at Berlin, CPH:PIX; FEST International Film Festival, where it won Best Film and the Jury Prize for Best Actress, Best Script, and Best Director; Wiesbaden goEast, where it won Best Film; and Sofia, where it won the FIPRESCI Prize. Requiem for Mrs. J was selected as the Serbian entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards, but it was not nominated.