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2014 Foreign Oscar Guide: LGBT Stories and Filmmakers

From Brazil to Finland, 6 major films explore LGBT perspectives

Xavier Dolan at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival

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One of the great things about the Foreign Language Film category is the wide range of cultures and perspectives that it introduces us to. This year, one of those notable perspectives is that of the worldwide LGBT community. Of the 83 submitted films, 4 of them prominently feature gay themes in their narratives while 2 more were made by gay directors. These films are an impressive bunch, already amassing many prestigious awards among them.

Joaquim Pinto
Joaquim Pinto

The earliest release of this lineup is Portugal’s entry What Now? Remind Me, an autobiographical documentary directed by Joaquim Pinto. In the film, Pinto reminisces on his life experiences having lived with HIV for more than two decades. As he reflects on the past, he also chronicles his present situation as he undergoes experimental treatment for his illness while going through his daily life with his husband Nuno Leonel. Following its premiere at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival, the film won the Special Jury Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize.

Another documentary in the race is the Swiss submission The Circle. Directed by Stefan Haupt, this heavily dramatized docudrama recounts the experiences of two men (Switzerland’s first same-sex married couple), who were part of an influential gay organization called “The Circle” (Der Kreis in German) during its peak in the 1950s and throughout its eventual decline. With its affecting mix of political drama and romance, this film won the Panorama Audience Award as well the Teddy Award (for films with LGBT topics) in the documentary section of the 2014 Berlin Film Festival.

At the same festival, another gay-themed film was well-received. Also playing in the Panorama section, Daniel Ribeiro’s The Way He Looks (Brazil’s pick) won the section’s FIPRESCI Prize as well as the Teddy Award for feature films. This endearing coming-of-age story was adapted from the director’s own short film of the same name (an award winner in its own right). Following a blind teenager’s quest for independence and love, the film is a proven crowd-pleaser, picking up 6 further audience awards along the festival circuit. Our own Jack Moulton called it a “refreshing, subversive pick-me-up”.

Gaspard Ulliel as Yves Saint Laurent
Gaspard Ulliel as Yves Saint Laurent

The Cannes Film Festival is always a great source for films with gay perspectives and this year’s edition was no different. One of those films is France’s submission Saint Laurent, a biopic of the famous gay fashion designer. Directed by Bertrand Bonello, the film didn’t exactly thrill the festival’s jury or critics but many have noted its stylish design. Considering the similarly ravishing aesthetic of the category’s most recent winner – The Great Beauty, which also went home empty-handed at Cannes – this film cannot be discounted. Being acquired by the most consistently successful distributor of foreign language contenders (Sony Pictures Classics) can’t hurt either.

Xavier Dolan at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival
Xavier Dolan at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival

The other entrant from Cannes is easily the most high profile of all these films – Xavier’s Dolan Mommy (the Canadian submission). After toiling away for year’s in the Un Certain Regard section, the prodigious 25-year old made a big splash with his latest film, winning the Jury Prize in the process. Fans have lauded the film’s radical 1:1 aspect ratio, in addition to his trademark knack for heightened drama and the sensational performances to match (the film stars frequent collaborators Anne Dorval and Suzanne Clement). Though it’s his first film without gay characters as its focus (it tells the story of a mother coping with a violent child), it undoubtedly comes from the mind of this singular gay filmmaker.

Pirjo Honkasalo and Pirkko Saisio
Pirjo Honkasalo and Pirkko Saisio

The final contender in this group is Finland’s Concrete Night, another film that mainly qualifies as LGBT by virtue of its filmmakers (though it does have an important subplot involving a gay character). This visually stunning film is written and directed by Pirjo Honkasalo, based on the novel by Pirkko Saisio (who also co-write the screenplay). Interestingly, the filmmaking duo are also connected in their personal lives, as they are considered one of the best-known lesbian couples in Finland. Like The Way He Looks, their film is a coming-of-age story albeit a much more serious one. In it we follow a 14-year old as he navigates the tough environment of urban Helsinki while dealing with feelings of disillusionment largely associated with the bad influence of his older brother. The film cleaned up at Finland’s Jussi Awards, winning 6 categories including Best Film.

With all their success so far, Oscar pundits should definitely keep an eye out for these films in the Foreign Language Oscar race. All of them have a good chance at making the shortlist, with Mommy in particular looking like a strong contender for a nomination or even a win. The quality’s definitely there for a potentially banner year for LGBT-related films in the category.

What do you think?

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Written by Shane Slater

Shane is a passionate cinephile and Tomatometer-approved film critic residing in Kingston, Jamaica. When he's not watching or writing about film, he spends much of his time wishing he lived in a big city. Shane is an avid world traveler and loves attending film festivals. He is a member of the African-American Film Critics Association.

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