The semi-final list of nine films in the Foreign Language Oscars’ category has predictably provoked disappointed grumbles. Not because of the choices themselves, which are good, which have been seen in festivals and appreciated. What has disappointed Oscars watchers and others are the misses.
To begin with here is the list of the nine films:
Belgium: The Broken Circle Breakdown
Bosnia and Herzegovina: An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker.
Cambodia: The Missing Picture
Denmark: The Hunt
Germany: Two Lives
Hong Kong: The Grandmaster
Hungary: The Notebook
Italy: The Great Beauty
Some of the misses are glaring. Poland’s Walesa: Man of Hope by the renowned director, Andrzej Wajda, is a powerful docu-feature about the trade union leader who changed the country’s political scene in an extremely defining way. This movie is out of the Oscars race.
So is Saudi Arabia’s Wadjda, directed by a woman, something absolutely novel in the kingdom. Mainly about a little girl who wants to ride a bicycle (in a country where this is frowned upon) only to race a boy who lives down her street, Wadjda was made under very difficult conditions. The director, Haifaa Al Mansour, told me some time ago that there were several occasions when she had to sit inside her van while she was directing male actors. I think she used a megaphone to convey her instructions. Saudi’s strict male-female segregation rules forbid intermingling of the sexes.
Another disappointment is Asghar Farhadi’s The Past (from Iran), which comes from a man who made that brilliant Oscar clincher, A Separation. Admittedly, The Past is not as riveting as his earlier work, and is also not rooted in Iranian culture, having been filmed in Paris. But Farhadi is a big name, and it is only to be expected that the exclusion of his work will upset some.
Blue is the Warmest Color – perhaps this year’s most talked about movie – did not qualify for the Foreign Language Oscars, because it opened in France after the cut-off date. However, the film – about lesbian love and class barriers that led to a much publicised spat between the director and the two lead actresses -- will be eligible for other Oscars, like Best Picture, Best Actress and so on.
The other important titles which missed the list include China’s Back to 1942, Egypt’s, Winter of Discontent, Israel’s, Bethlehem, Holland’s Borgman and Russia’s Stalingrad.
India’s The Good Road is also out with perhaps the makers of The Lunch Box saying, I told you so. They were livid when a committee constituted by the Film Federation of India zeroed in on The Good Road, despite a big PR campaign by The Lunch Box team.
The semi-final list was finalised by the Foreign Language Committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that watched a record 76 movies this year. The panel will also choose the final five films, and announce them on January 16. After this, the winner will be decided by the 5000-6000 Academy voters, each of whom will be sent the screeners of all the five movies.
The big Oscars night – when the winning names will pop out of the sealed envelopes – will be on March 2 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has been watching the Oscars for many years)