2016 Foreign Oscar Guide: Visions from the New World

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.

Anyone paying attention to world cinema will surely have noticed the rise of Latin American cinema. Along with their North American counterparts (aka “The New World”), the region has been a hotbed of emerging talents in the last few years. Indeed, it seems like rarely does a major film festival go by without a Latin American film winning a prize. And in terms of Oscar, countries like Chile, Colombia and Peru have recently received their first ever nominations for Best Foreign Language Film. This year, 15 films will represent the Americas with hopes of keeping that momentum going. Here’s a look at this eclectic group.

Three of the Latin American submissions have already been discussed, namely “About Us” (Costa Rica), Venice Film Festival winner “From Afar” (Venezuela) and Chile’s “Neruda,” starring Gael García Bernal.

Gael García Bernal in "Desierto"
Gael García Bernal in “Desierto”

While those entries from Chile and Venezuela could be the strongest bets, another Gael García Bernal starrer (Mexico’s “Desierto“) hopes to capitalize on its frighteningly prescient premise. In the film (directed by Jonás Cuarón of “Gravity” fame), Bernal plays a Mexican immigrant who attempts a dangerous border crossing, as a racist American vigilante pursues him. Winner of the FIPRESCI prize at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, the film’s US release was delayed to October in light of its relevance to the election, with trailers making use of Donald Trump hate speech.

As is often the case, sociopolitical themes were present in several of the other Latin American submissions. From Bolivia, there are the environmental concerns of Julia Vargas-Weise’s “Sealed Cargo,” a true story about a train carrying toxic waste between Bolivia and Chile. From Cuba, a historic government intervention sets the foundation for “The Companion,” as two men become friends in a sanatorium designated for HIV patients in 1980s Cuba. In the Dominican Republic’s entry “Sugar Fields,” the brutal Trujillo dictatorship is the focus, as a pair of peasant couples struggles to survive. And from Uruguay, another dictatorship is central to the story of Manane Rodríguez’ “Breadcrumbs,” which follows a woman struggling to emerge from a history of persecution.

Politics of a different sort also featured in the Brazilian selection. Following the protests (directed towards the coup d’état of president Dilma Rousseff) fostered by the filmmakers of the more favored “Aquarius,” David Schurmann’s “Little Secret” was eventually chosen, viewed as a political backlash against the former.

Oscar Martinez in "The Distinguished Citizen"
Oscar Martinez in “The Distinguished Citizen”

While Brazil snubbed their Cannes darling, Canada decided to take another chance on Xavier Dolan, sending his Grand Prix winner “It’s Only the End of the World.” Though it was panned by critics, this melodrama about a terminally ill writer’s fraught family reunion could benefit from its esteemed cast, which includes Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel and Léa Seydoux. Likewise, Argentina and Peru also went with their festival winners. The former will be represented by “The Distinguished Citizen” (Best Actor winner for Oscar Martinez at the 2016 Venice Film Festival), while the latter pins its hopes on “Videophilia (and Other Viral Syndromes),” winner of the Tiger Award at the 2015 International Film Festival Rotterdam.

Three more films round out this batch of films. After touring the festival circuit following its 2015 Cannes premiere, Colombia will try for back-to-back nominations with José Luis Rugeles’ “Alias Maria,” about a pregnant young soldier sent on a special guerrilla mission. And finally, Ecuador and Panama will attempt to secure their first nominations with the thrillers “Such is Life in the Tropics” and “Salsipuedes,” respectively.

Contenders to watch: “Neruda” and “It’s Only the End of the World”

Which of these films are you rooting for? Let us know in the comments below.

Check out the latest Oscar Predictions for Foreign Language Feature!

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