Recently, the Academy announced a significant change to the voting process for Best International Feature. Rather than relying on a smaller committee of volunteers, the selection of the nominees is now open to the entire membership. This revamp of the category is just one of several adjustments made over the years to maintain the relevance of this special acknowledgment of world cinema. Indeed, the effects of one of the earlier decisions to change the language requirement (previously countries were only allowed to submit a film in a native language) is on full display this year through Europe’s slate of Oscar contenders. With a plethora of co-productions, the typically large contingent of European Oscar submissions is an impressive reflection of the state of contemporary world cinema, where national borderlines are being increasingly blurred. Here’s a deeper look at this year’s diverse crop of European Oscar contenders.
As discussed previously, this year sees a record number of African films competing for the Oscar. This is further highlighted by two European films set in African communities. From the United Kingdom, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s directorial debut “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” tells the inspiring true story of a young boy in Malawi who invests a windmill to save his village from an ongoing famine. And from Austria, Sudabeh Mortezai’s “Joy” captures the lives of immigrant Nigerian women who resort to sex trafficking in Vienna to survive.
Foreign cultures are also the focus of the Belgian, Bulgarian, Irish, Luxembourger and Swedish submissions. Breaking with their tradition of selecting alternating films in Dutch and French, Belgium has instead submitted the Camera d’Or winner “Our Mothers,” a Spanish-language drama set in Guatemala. Meanwhile Bulgaria has chosen Milko Lazarov’s “Ága,” set in a secluded indigenous community in the Arctic north. Representing Ireland is Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell’s “Gaza,” a documentary about the lives residents in the volatile titular region. After falling short at Israel’s Ophir Awards, Sameh Zoabi’s crowdpleaser “Tel Aviv on Fire” will also be in the Oscar race, courtesy of Luxembourg, one of the film’s four co-producing countries. And from Sweden comes “And Then We Danced,” an LGBT-themed drama about Georgian dancers.
Co-productions are truly abundant among the European Oscar contenders , most noticeably in the case of France. In a very competitive year for French films, the birthplace of cinema will be represented by “Les Miserables,” directed by Ladj Ly. But France could also lay claim to a further 8 submissions, including Italy’s “The Traitor,” Poland’s “Corpus Christi,” Portugal’s “The Domain” and Romania’s “The Whistlers.” In addition to another 9 entries from around the world and the French-language influence of Canada’s “Antigone,” there’s a noticeable French flair to this year’s Oscar race.
The remainder of the European Oscar hopefuls are filmmakers exploring stories set within the confines of their own societies and cultures. These include major contenders such as Pedro Almodovar’s “Pain and Glory” (Spain), Kantemir Balagov’s “Beanpole” (Russia), and Norway’s “Out Stealing Horses” by Hans Petter Moland. However, it would be unwise to discount any of the other 25 European films, which include previously nominated countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina (“The Son“), Czech Republic (“The Painted Bird“), Denmark (“Queen of Hearts“), Estonia (“Truth and Justice“), Finland (“Stupid Young Heart“), Georgia (“Shindisi“), Germany (“System Crasher“), Greece (“When Tomatoes Met Wagner“), Hungary (“Those Who Remained“), Iceland (“A White White Day“), Netherlands (“Instinct“), North Macedonia (“Honeyland“), Switzerland (“Wolkenbruch’s Wondrous Journey Into the Arms of a Shiksa“). And considering this award’s historical Eurocentrism, any of the following dark horses could make a surprise appearance on the shortlist: Albania’s “The Delegation“, Belarus’ “Debut,” Kosovo’s “Zana,” Latvia’s “The Mover,” Lithuania’s “Bridges of Time“, Montenegro’s “Neverending Past,” Serbia’s “King Petar of Serbia,” Slovakia’s “Let There Be Light,” Slovenia’s “History of Love,” Turkey’s “Commitment” and “Homeland” from Ukraine.
Contenders to watch: “Pain and Glory,” “Beanpole,” “Les Miserables,” “Our Mothers,” “Out Stealing Horses”