On Dec. 14, the executive committee of the Academy’s Foreign-Language Film award met in the Academy’s seventh-floor boardroom. Its mission was to choose three films from the 92 submitting countries in order to complete the nine-film shortlist to be announced later that afternoon; a few days earlier, the Southern California general committee had chosen six films, which were announced at the start of the meeting.
Here, in alphabetical order based on the submitting country, are the nine short-listed films:
- Chile, A Fantastic Woman, Sebastián Lelio, director
- Germany, In the Fade, Fatih Akin, director
- Hungary, On Body and Soul, Ildikó Enyedi, director
- Israel, Foxtrot, Samuel Maoz, director
- Lebanon, The Insult, Ziad Doueiri, director
- Russia, Loveless, Andrey Zvyagintsev, director
- Senegal, Félicité, Alain Gomis, director
- South Africa, The Wound, John Trengove, director
- Sweden, The Square, Ruben Östlund, director
Several films were widely expected to make the shortlist, such as The Square, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, or Loveless, which won the same festival’s Jury Prize. Also honored at Cannes was In the Fade, whose star, Diane Kruger, won best actress. On Body and Soul won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale.
But there were surprises in the shortlist as well. Senegal was a first-time entrant with Félicité. Lebanon’s The Insult was screened at the beginning of the Academy's schedule, which comprised almost two months of daily screenings, seven days a week, but the film had stuck in the committee’s mind as well.
Here are trailers for each film:
Chile: A Fantastic Woman. A transgender love story with a deeply moving performance by Daniela Vega.
Germany: In the Fade. A nonstop thriller about a terrorist attack and a surviving wife’s revenge after the legal system fails her.
Hungary: On Body and Soul. A delicate and quiet story of a man and woman sharing the same dream of deer in the forest, metaphors of their love for each other.
Israel: Foxtrot. Despite being condemned by Israel’s Minister of Culture, this film, about a couple's loss of a son, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.
Lebanon: The Insult. A passing insult between a Christian and a Palestinian in Beirut becomes a microcosm of a nation’s struggle with tolerance and diversity.
Russia: Loveless. An unhappily married couple’s strife leads to their young son’s disappearance in a slowly revealed story of unrequited loss.
Senegal: Félicité. In this story of a woman trying to get money for her son’s operation, Vero Tshanda Beya Mputu’s performance cuts with rigor and poetry through multiple levels of Kinshasa society.
South Africa: The Wound. A dark coming-of-sexual-age drama of a circumcision rite known as Ukwaluka practiced by the Xhosa people.
Sweden: The Square. There can be no greater socio-cultural contrast between the Xhosa tribe of South Africa and the art-museum sophisticates of Stockholm than this unsettling, surreal comedy.
These trailers for these films from Europe, the Middle East, Central and South Africa and South America illustrate how startling and shocking the best filmmaking from around the world remains. At a time when so much of American moviemaking has descended into recycled franchises (with more of the same to come in 2018), it is a reaffirmation that cinema is thrillingly alive throughout the world. The best of American filmmaking stands alongside the best of the world, but, sadly, that best seems to be given to us mostly in bursts at the end of each year — for Oscar consideration.
I am privileged to be able to see the very best of world cinema at the end of the year, during the Academy’s screenings of the foreign-language film submissions. As president of the Academy, I have encouraged all Southern California-based members to sign onto the general committee to see as many of the films as they can. If Phileas Fogg took 80 days to go around the world in the Jules Verne novel, Academy members this year were able to visit 92 countries from the comfort of their seats in the Academy’s Goldwyn and Dunn theaters — true 21st-century accidental tourists.
In my next post, I will highlight one of the films that did not make the shortlist cut, but which reveals in several “making of” videos the continuing surprise and exuberance of films from other countries.
Los Buscadores (The Gold Seekers)