Welcome to The Awards Circuit’s 2016 Foreign Oscar Guide. This weekly series will shine a spotlight on this year’s Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film, looking at all 85 submitted films and their interesting trends and regional perspectives.
If you take a cursory glance at the previous Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language Film, you’ll notice a trend of films about serious issues like war, terminal illnesses and other types of strife. Among this year’s list of submissions however, six films will hope to change the tone of the final shortlist by going straight for the heart. Hailing from places as culturally distinct as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, their narratives have one thing in common – love.
As is the case with many of the most beloved in the genre, three of the submitted romance films center around forbidden love. Representing Australia, co-directors Martin Butler and Bentley Dean bring a unique tale from the titular island of Tanna in the Pacific. “Tanna” centers around a man and woman (played by first-time actors Mungau Dain and Marie Wawa) who wish to marry out of love, which flies in the face of the tribal tradition of arranged marriage. Shot on location with a cast of real members of the Yakel tribe, it is based on a true story and won the Critics’ Week Audience Award at its Venice Film Festival premiere.
While the relationship in “Tanna” turns into a dangerous situation, Mahmoud Sabbagh’s “Barakah Meets Barakah” takes a lighter approach. The film is reportedly the first romantic comedy ever made in Saudi Arabia and tells the story of a romance between a man and woman from different classes. Since its Berlin premiere, the film has been well received on the festival circuit. Similarly, class conflict is a major theme in Venezuela’s “From Afar,” an unorthodox gay romance about a wealthy middle-aged man who becomes enamored with a young street thug. Directed by Lorenzo Vigas, “From Afar” was the surprise winner of the Golden Lion at the 2015 Venice International Film Festival.
Regardless of social taboos, relationships can still be strange and complicated, as evidenced by the plots of Bulgaria’s “Losers” and Costa Rica’s “About Us.” The former follows a close-knit group of high school students whose interrelationships are shaken up by a visiting rock band in their town. Meanwhile the latter depicts a romantic getaway gone wrong, as a young man begins to doubt his already rocky relationship with his would-be fiancée.
Finally, there’s nothing like a historical epic to set your heart aflutter. Taking up that slot among the romance films this year is Pakistan’s submission “Mah e Mir.” This drama stars Fahad Mustafa in dual roles as a contemporary poet named Jamal and the 18th century poet Mir Taqi Mir. Spanning both time periods, the film features a romance subplot as it recounts the parallel struggles faced by both men.
Contenders to watch: “From Afar” and “Tanna”