It’s rare I actually catch all foreign language Oscar nominees for a given year. I just finished 2014 two weeks back, but somehow I caught 4 out of 5 of 2017’s nominees in theaters with On Body and Soul being caught on Netflix, as the company couldn’t manage to give it a proper theatrical release (to which some have said why it is not being received as well). Here are my rankings for the films:
- A Fantastic Woman (Chile) – a drama about a trans woman dealing with grief and prejudice following her older lover’s death. Combining societal prejudice with police and social services producing more harm than good with their distrust and speculation and the personal issues with the departed lover’s family wanting her to stay far away from the funeral. Daniela Vega in a dynamite lead in a character who is not built on Marina’s trans identity but rather as Marina as a woman facing strife who happens to be trans. Humanizing and infuriating, the movie gets the blood boiling and the heart wrenching.
- The Square (Sweden) – Claes Bang stars as a museum director approaching the release of a new installment called “The Square” in which people must be seen rather than ignored. Blending criticism of the high art scene and the lack of humanity in the humanities, Ruben Östlund’s follow up to the widely popular Force Majuere explores more human foibles through terrible interpersonal relationships, barely considered artistic adventures, and a human ape turning a room barbaric. Sometimes feeling like a collection of scenes, the vignettes combine to form a strong satire.
- On Body and Soul (Hungary) – Hungarian auteur Ildikó Enyedi delivers an unconventional romance between an autistic woman Maria and a coworker Endre she falls for when they begin sharing dreams as a pair of deer. The quiet delivery has subtle humor and intimate connection. Alexandra Borbély as Maria is methodical, dragging herself through attempting to be romantic, and Géza Morcsányi as Endre contends with reluctantly slipping back into romance. Their chemistry is unique, and Enyedi’s vision is pure.
- The Insult (Lebanon) – a clash of cultures drama between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian Muslim who takes their feud to court following perceived insults that escalate to mirror the nationalist refugee struggles covering the planet. The sharp pacing, side story of related lawyers, and gradual unveiling of similarities between the affected parties show the extent pride and resentment can hinder a person’s life.
- Loveless (Russia) – Bleak is the main theme to this well executed but repetitive story of a divorcing couple searching for their missing boy. Traipsing through the Orthodoxy and bureaucracy of modern Russia relating to their divorce and finding their son, resolution is a slow process. The couple, both fully committed to other relationships, form a void between them where their son slipped out. The son is barely in the movie; the parents’ process in finding the boy is the story. Based in 2012, Loveless connects to modern and long-lasting difficulties of the region (Ukraine’s instability, religious influence, etc) excuses the slow pacing, but no, I would definitely not rewatch it.
Having watched a few more of the eligible films for last year, France’s BPM (Beats Per Minute) was not only my favorite, but it was one of my favorite films of the year. Estonia’s November was very odd and very interesting. Italy’s A Ciambra and Senegal’s Felicite have an adventurous authenticity The Wound from South Africa, now on Netflix and banned in its home country, is a gay narrative placed within a tribal ceremony; Tense and unsettling. Finland’s Tom of Finland was a surprisingly tame but well-crafted biopic. Michael Haneke’s Happy End, Austria’s submission, was a rare miss for the director. Norway’s Thelma, basically a lesbian Carrie, did nothing for me, though a lot of people loved it. Cambodia’s Angelina Jolie directed First They Killed My Father is a Netflix release that I couldn’t quite commit the emotional energy to yet, and China’s Wolf Warrior 2 was one of the world’s highest grossing movies. Germany’s In the Fade had a pitiful theatrical release, so I missed it’s week in Seattle. Ireland’s Song of Granite played while I was out of town, but I love when traditionally English speaking countries submit. Argentina’s Almodovar produced Zama comes to Northwest Film Forum in May, and the Czech Republic’s Ice Mother will stream soon on Hulu. Israel’s Foxtrot reached the shortlist, so it’ll get a SIFF release or maybe land in the festival. Singapore’s Pop Aye is streaming on Amazon Prime, and South Korea’s A Taxi Driver has pulled into Hulu. Spain’s Summer 1993, another HIV-AIDS related film, should surface eventually.
Has anyone seen something from the list that I haven’t? Any recommendations?