Sunday, April 21, 2013

OVP: Foreign Language Film (2010)

OVP: Best Foreign Language Film

The Nominees Were...

Biutiful, Mexico
Dogtooth, Greece
Incendies, Canada
Outside the Law, Algeria

My Thoughts: The Nobel Prize of Film is the Palme d'Or, but this has to be a close second from an international perspective.  Though Denmark is a frequent contributor, 2010 lacked some of the standbys in the category (Italy, France, Germany), and while this reaching out to some less-recognized countries is admirable and should be encouraged, the slate of films is a decidedly mixed bag of nominees.

I oftentimes struggle with what order to list these films, so with these, I'm going to chronologically when I saw each of the films, with Incendies then being first, as it's the only one that I saw in theaters.  The film, telling multiple tales across time and with multiple mistaken identities and secrets, the is not what I'd generally associate with Canada (Barney's Version being more in that line), but whatever your preconceptions about Canadian filmmaking, this is a must.  The film is driven primarily by a gut-wrenching performance by Lubna Azabal, who journeys through hell and prejudice to eventually come out on the other side, deeply scarred but still alive.  The final scene, with the letters, will have you trembling and in tears.

Biutiful is the sort of film that's supposed to drive you to tears as well, and with good reason.  I've had a pretty bad day today (damn that sequester and the two-hour airport security lines that it produces), but nothing compares to what Javier Bardem has to live through in this movie-broke, constantly struggling to take care of his family, and of course, just weeks away from dying from cancer, he makes Job look like Mr. Rogers.  The movie is slow, desolate, and without even the remotest hint of joy, and I think as a result it becomes a bit like a torture piece.  The film stretches, and seems more intent on showing Bardem's suffering than actually melding together a story or an arch.

In a Better World, as I reviewed before, I had a mixed reaction toward.  I loved the complicated thoughts that Susanne Bier is trying to get at here-she's not afraid to show the most dangerous aspects of peer pressure and group-think, but the film doesn't seem to connect everything in an edgy, dangerous way similar to its set-up.  The movie wears better with some distance on it-the entire plot between Elias and Christian leading up to the bombing is a realistic look at a very complicated preteen friendship and the ways that children are so reliant on each other for validation.  However, the ending still rings hollow-I have trouble believing that the two of them wouldn't have suffered stronger ramifications.  I also, on further thought, still don't quite get what's going on in the Sudanese story and how the violent warlord in this tale fully relates back to the message of the Danish story.

Outside the Law doesn't age as well in my mind as In a Better World, and it slowly becomes one of those films that you know you're going to forget you saw several years later.  Each year the Foreign Film category seems to have one film fall into this camp, with one of the nominees neither excellent nor bad enough to recall vividly.  As proof, it's been at least twice as long since I saw Incendies than I saw this film, and Incendies still comes out beautifully in my memory, whereas this tale, inspired a bit by The Godfather, is starting to turn to haze.  However, I do recall enough of it to state that it was far too long, far too involved with its primary focus (the revolution) to fully develop its characters through growing plot ideas.  I loved the sibling dynamic, but that isn't enough to build a strong filmic foundation around.

The final film, one of the oddest movies to ever be nominated for an Oscar, is more a bizarre, black comedy that points an indiscernible light onto society than a complete movie.  I love the ideas behind it, but the film is far too focused on asking questions than reaching answers.  Posing questions is a great idea, but it seems as if the director doesn't seem to care about reaching resolution with any of them, with sexual norms and self-identity very much in dispute amongst the characters.  A fairly similar film would be Cache, a movie that also poses lots of questions and doesn't provide a lot of answers, but it doesn't completely disregard the audience.  It still finds a way to tease its answers, not just throwing them to the wind.

Other Precursor Contenders: I could spend all day listing the Davids, Cesars, Goyas, and Genies that serve as minor precursors of this award, but I'll just focus on the only awards bodies that also picks from an enormous international assortment.  In a Better World was victorious, with Biutiful being joined by The Concert, The Edge, and I Am Love.
Oscar's Choice: Oscar chose Denmark's bright talent Susanne Bier for its trophy, probably just beating out the Box Office success Biutiful.
My Choice: A fairly strong endorsement from me for Canada's selection-Incendies is so much better than the rest of the films, it's hard to believe anyone else could have won.  After that, I'd go with In a Better World, Outside the Law, Dogtooth, and finally the harsh Biutiful.

How about you-how many of these movies have you seen?  Did you want Bier to take home the trophy, or were you more behind Incendies like myself?  And do you also agree that Biutiful, with its major movie star was the second place or was it one of the others?

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