The beaches, the glitz, the glamour, the history, the prestige. It’s no wonder that so many international directors choose to launch their films at the Cannes Film Festival. Over the years, the foreign language Oscar race has become increasingly populated with films that made their bow on the French Riviera. With 11 Cannes premieres submitted this year (a noteworthy 13% of the full list), the fest has once again solidified its reputation as a breeding ground for Oscar contenders. As expected, many of those submissions are from Europe but nearly all the major continents are represented (Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America).
The biggest story ahead of this year’s fest was whether Nuri Bilge Ceylan would finally claim the coveted Palme d’Or with his latest film Winter Sleep (Turkey’s submission). Having already won numerous other awards at the fest, many felt that the jury wouldn’t hesitate to finally crown him the king of Cannes. As it turns out, the prognosticators were correct. The wordy 195-minute character study garnered the respect of the fest’s highbrow critics, with much support for his “overdue” narrative. After making the Academy’s shortlist in 2008, Nuri Bilge Ceylan now hopes to finally breakthrough with an Oscar nod.
An even longer film can be found among these Cannes debuts. Clocking in at a hefty 250 minutes, Norte, the End of History (selected by The Philippines) is a holdover from Cannes 2013 that is by far the longest of this year’s foreign language submissions. Directed by Lav Diaz, the film tells a multi-narrative story of murder and redemption. Though the film won no Cannes prizes, it was generally well-received at various festival showings, especially by those who were used to his brand of long-form storytelling. This is the first Lav Diaz film to be chosen for Oscar consideration.
In its own way, Israel’s entry Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem could also be considered part of a long-form narrative style. The film is actually the third installment in a trilogy (preceded by To Take A Wife in 2004 and 7 Days in 2008) that has been compared to Richard Linklater’s own “Before” trilogy. Gett stars arthouse favorite Ronit Elkabetz (who also directed and wrote the film) as Viviane Amsalem, a woman whose personal struggles have lead her to fight for a divorce. However, Israeli law prohibits a divorce without the husband’s consent (which isn’t forthcoming), resulting in an arduous legal process. Gett was automatically selected as Israel’s submission by virtue of winning Best Film at the Ophir Awards, curiously beating out the military comedy Zero Motivation (which swept the other awards for director, actress, screenplay, editing, music and casting). However, many perceived Gett to be the smarter choice for the more serious-minded Academy voters. Indeed, Israel has secured 4 nominations in the past 7 years so they’re clearly doing something right.
Another beloved actress Marion Cotillard – a rare Oscar winner for a foreign language performance – headlines Belgium’s submission Two Days, One Night. Directed by Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, the film is typical of their understated style, but it’s their first collaboration with a bona fide movie star. In the film, Cotillard plays a young woman who must fight for her job by convincing her co-workers to give up their bonuses. Following its Cannes premiere and subsequent screenings, reviews have especially championed Cotillard’s performance. Still, the film left empty-handed at Cannes despite the Dardennes’ consistent track record. In addition, none of the duo’s previous films have been nominated in this category. History isn’t on their side therefore, but Marion Cotillard’s presence will definitely stir up some interest among the voters.
Elkabetz and Cotillard are fairly normal compared to the stars of this year’s Un Certain Regard winner however. In White God (Hungary’s submission), a dog named Hagen forms part of a rebellion against mankind. For their efforts, the film’s canine cast won the Palm Dog, easily the most fun award of the whole festival. By all accounts, the film is very impressive and will likely stand out for its unique perspective. Hungary hasn’t been nominated since 1988, but they’ll certainly fancy their chances this time around.
Another film that may stand out from the pack is Argentina’s Wild Tales. The film was a major hit with the audience at its premiere, living up to its title as a hilarious romp that connects six short films. It’s rare for such comedic fare to be acknowledged for the voters in this category, but it’s already built up incredible buzz. Some experts even think it’s the one to beat.
Force Majeure (Sweden’s pick) is also making its mark with its unique brand of humour. Directed by Ruben Östlund, the film has played well to critics and audiences worldwide. Its plot investigates the aftermath of a patriarch’s cowardly decision in the face of danger. Mercilessly skewering the male lead, it has already drawn comparisons to the similarly themed pop culture hit Gone Girl. With a smart script that will surely bring up debates surrounding marriage and gender expectations, Force Majeure will certainly be one of the most talked about films in the race.
Finally, Russia’s submission was one that was met with a sense of relief when it was announced. Though met with significant acclaim at Cannes (winning Best Screenplay in the process), there was uncertainty regarding their eventual selection of Leviathan as their representative. The film is seen as a modern adaptation of the biblical Book of Job, telling an anti-corruption story that was thought to be too critical of Putin’s government to be supported by Russia’s selection committee. In the end, its quality was too good to be denied, putting Russia in a very good position to contend for Oscar glory.
These films join the following Cannes films that have already been discussed: Saint Laurent, Timbuktu and Mommy. All 11 of them are formidable contenders for a nomination. You’d be foolish to discount any one of them.