2017 Foreign Oscar Guide: Europe’s Serious Contenders

Welcome to The Awards Circuit’s 2017 Foreign Oscar Guide. This weekly series will shine a spotlight on this year’s Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film, looking at all 92 submitted films and their interesting trends and regional perspectives.

Terrorism, debilitating illness, the lingering trauma of war. These are just a few of the dark themes represented in this year’s European submissions for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. With a typically sizable contingent of 38 films, exploring this year’s European films can therefore be a daunting task. But as past winners like “Amour” and “Son of Saul” can attest, “serious” fare is catnip for the Academy. And with festival prizes and famous actors in the mix, they would appear to have the recipe for success. Here’s a closer look at the European films vying for Oscar glory this year:

Diane Kruger with her Cannes Best Actress prize for “In the Fade”

As with the aforementioned “Amour and “Son of Saul”, the path to an Oscar nomination often begins at Cannes. In 2017, this trend will likely repeat, as a handful of award-winning submissions premiered on the French Riviera. Germany’s pick “In the Fade,” won the Best Actress prize for Diane Kruger’s celebrated performance. Former Oscar nominee Andrey Zvyagintsev walked away with the Jury Prize for “Loveless,” which has since racked up several other awards. Among its laurels are the Best Film award from the London Film Festival and most recently, Best Cinematography and Best Score at the European Film Awards. While Zvagintsev is aiming for his second nod, Sweden’s Ruben Ostlund hopes third time’s the charm after falling short with 2009’s “Involuntary” and 2014’s “Force Majeure”. With his Palme d’Or winning satire “The Square” he may have his best chance yet.

Vanessa Paradis in “Frost”

Also premiering at Cannes were Šarūnas Bartas’s Vanessa Paradis-starrer “Frost” (Lithuania), Jonas Campignano’s “A Ciambra” (Italy) and “Happy End“, the latest provocation from Austria’s Michael Haneke. Though the latter came away empty-handed at Cannes, Haneke has had great success with the Academy (including a Best Director nomination) and cannot be counted out. This drama surrounding a middle class family is one of two submissions (in addition to Luxembourg’s “Barrage“) starring Isabelle Huppert.

Belgium’s submission can also boast a previously nominated director and movie stars, as “Racer and the Jailbird” reunites Michael Roskam with Matthias Schoenaerts, who played the lead in the 2011 nominee “Bullhead”. This time around, Schoenaerts shares with the screen with rising French actress Adèle Exarchopoulos. Cinephiles may also recognize Trine Dyrholm in “You Disappear“, as the Danish thespian who has now starred in 4 of their submissions. In this thought-provoking drama, Dyrholm plays the wife of a man diagnosed with a brain tumor which alters his behavior with dire consequences.

“You Disappear” is one of a trio of films with characters dealing with a close relative’s illness. Coincidentally, both “Quit Staring at My Plate” (Croatia) and “Black Level” (Ukraine) follow protagonists who are affected by their father’s stroke. In the former, it provides a young woman with a sense of freedom, while the latter causes a midlife crisis.

The more devastating effects of war is an even hotter topic in European cinema. The Bosnian entry “Men Don’t Cry” focuses on a group Yugoslav war veterans, as they discuss experiences in group therapy. Kosovo’s “Unwanted” takes place in the aftermath of their late 90s conflict. Meanwhile the Turkish submission “Ayla: The Daughter of War” tells the harrowing story of a little girl struggling to survive in the aftermath of the Korean War.

While Europe evidently has more than its fair share of buzzy titles, there is often an unexpected film that springs a surprise on the shortlist. Indeed, you can always find hidden gems among the more under the radar submissions. This year, those hopefuls include “Daybreak” (Albania), “Pomegranate Orchard” (Azerbaijan), “November” (Estonia), “Amerika Square” (Greece), “The Chronicles of Melanie” (Latvia), “Saint George” (Portugal), “The Fixer” (Romania), “Requiem for Mrs. J” (Serbia), “The Line” (Slovakia) and “My Pure Land” (United Kingdom). And it would be wise to keep an eye on Bohdan Sláma’s “Ice Mother” (Best Screenplay winner at the Tribeca Film Festival) and Iceland’s “Under the Tree,” a winner at Fantastic Fest and the Hamptons and Zurich Film Festivals.

Adding to the list of European submissions are 14 previously discussed women-directed and LGBTQ-themed films. These include such frontrunners as “BPM,” “Summer 1993” and “Spoor.”

Contenders to watch: “Loveless”, “Happy End”, “BPM (Beats Per Minute)”, “The Square”, “Summer 1993”, “Spoor”

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