Monday, June 19, 2017

FOREIGN FILM PREDICTIONS (The Americas and Oceania)

It's that time of year again. Over the course of the next few months, over 80 countries will send their best films to Hollywood to compete for the Best Foreign Film award at the Oscars. Every year, I see some of my favorite films by hunting down the films on the list. The best ones are rarely nominated. Last year's haunting "Eva Nova" from Slovakia was ignored.

Until now, 113 countries have entered the Oscar race at least once. Last year a record 89 countries announced submissions, although four of them were mysteriously disqualified (The disqualification of Armenia's "Earthquake" was particularly confusing).

I've decided the world into five regions.
The Americas and Oceania (22 countries)
Middle East and Africa (24 countries)
Eastern Europe (24 countries)
Asia (23 countries)
Western Europe (20 countries)

Additionally, two new countries- Ghana and the United Arab Emirates- have applied to send films for the first time.

Here are the likely submissions from The Americas and Oceania:


ARGENTINA- "Zama" Argentina is widely expected to select political thriller “La cordillera” (The Summit), the third feature by up-and-coming director Santiago Mitre, who was in the running for “The Student” and “Paulina” but who has never yet been selected to represent Argentina. It’s easily the most anticipated Argentina film of 2017, earned a spot in Cannes 2017 (Un Certain Regard) and co-stars Ricardo Darin and Paulina Garcia (and, for some strange reason, 80s star Christian Slater?!). Darin stars in virtually every film selected by the Argentine Academy. However, this drama about political corruption and scandal hasn’t been as well received as the other Mitre films and Argentina is in this to win, so I'm not confident about its chances. From my perspective, the two front-runners are historical dramas “Zama” and  “The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis”.  Set in the 17th century under Spanish rule, and based on one of Argentina’s most acclaimed novels, “Zama” is directed by Lucrecia Martel (“La cienaga”), another director who may be felt to be owed. IMDB says it will be released in December, while other sources say it will be released this summer...it's unclear. “The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis” premiered at Cannes 2016 but wasn’t released in Argentina until November. It’s a moral dilemma drama set during the military dictatorship about a bureaucrat/family man who is handed information that two friends of friends are about to be arrested and “disappeared” by the military regime. The man must decide whether to risk his life to save the lives of these innocent strangers. “Francisco Sanctis” was released so long ago that it’s really at a disadvantage. However, it’s the only Best Picture nominee eligible from this year’s Silver Condor Awards and reviews are better than the buzzy “La cordillera”.  Rounding out the top five candidates are patriotic Falkland Islands war drama “Soldado Argentino solo conocido por Dios” (An Argentina Soldier Known Only to God) and “The Winter” about an old man surviving a rural winter with the young man due to replace him. I’ve heard some mention mystery-thriller “Black Snow” (also starring Ricardo Darin) and wacky comedy “You Only Live Once” (co-starring Gerard Depardieu), perhaps seeking to emulate “The Secret in Their Eyes” and “Wild Tales” respectively….but I don’t think they’ll factor in the vote. The Argentine Academy votes on their favorite choice and I think “Zama” will win this easily if its released, while “Francisco Sanctis” will get it if it's not. “La cordillera” will be a distant third.


AUSTRALIA- "One Less God" Australia should be sending “Salt Bridge”, a Hindi-language drama about Indian immigrants to a small Australian town. It’s billed as Australia’s first Bollywood film but there’s one problem- the film seems to have (foolishly) gotten an Oscar qualifying release in Los Angeles in 2015 so that they could enter the Best Original Song category. This is one for the rulebooks, but I believe that means “Salt Bridge” cannot enter the Foreign Film category this year. Another Aussie option is “One Less God”, a gripping new thriller about the international (and multi-lingual) travelers caught in the middle of the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008. It’s unclear exactly how much is in English. A final option is Albanian-language horror-thriller “Bloodlands”, made by an Australian director in Albania. There are actually quite a lot of multi-cultural stories coming out of Australia this year (“Ali’s Wedding”, “The Colour of Darkness”) but they’re all in English. So many “maybes”….I predict Australia tries their luck with “One Less God”.  


BOLIVIA- "El rio" Bolivia is expected to release about eight features in 2017, including a musical-comedy, a silly prison break caper and a dramatization of the sexual tortures of the Marquis de Sade. None of these sound like Oscar contenders. The Bolivians don’t always send a movie (one year their selection committee said none of the films were good enough….another year the producers of the selected film said they couldn’t subtitle the film in time) so they could skip this year. Their highest-profile film is clearly “Dark Skull” (Viajo Calavera), a mysterious thriller set in the country's tin mines. It’s probably appeared at more film festivals (it won Best Picture in Cartagena and other awards at Locarno and Rio de Janeiro) than any Bolivian film in history. However, I predict they send “El rio”, the debut feature of Juan Pablo Richter, about a teenager who falls in love with his stepmother. It hasn't premiered in cinemas yet but it boasts a fairly well-known local cast and is set in a photogenic border region near Brazil. In third: “Averno”, an adventure-drama. There’s even less info online but director Marcos Loayza is a fairly accomplished national director who has never been selected before.


BRAZIL- "The Great Mystical Circus" Brazil is always difficult to predict, but this year I have a strong feeling they will send “The Great Mystical Circus”, a colorful epic drama following a century in the history of a Brazilian circus. The trailer looks great, and the film represents the comeback of 77-year old Carlos “Caca” Diegues, who has directed six previous Brazilian submissions. It will be released right before the deadline, which should work in its favor.  Brazil has lots to choose from, but I’m pretty sure this will be their selection. Two other movies by previous selected directors also have a strong chance with the Brazilian committee, namely “A Movie Life” (Selton Mello), based on an acclaimed novel about a young cinema aficionado raised by his mother in the 1960s, and “Joaquim” (Marcelo Gomes), a historical drama (Berlinale 2017) about an 18th century national hero. Rounding out the top five: father-daughter drama “Mulher do Pai” and “Bingo: King of the Morning”, about an actor who finds anonymous fame as a beloved television clown. Brazil typically has a long shortlist of over a dozen films, and you can expect to also find films like “The Dionti Family, “Comeback”, “Gloria and Grace” and “The Two Irenes”. Won’t be released in time: “Piedade” and “Gabriel and the Mountain” (Cannes). 


CANADA- "Old Stone" Canada is a powerhouse in the Foreign Film category, with seven films shortlisted in the past eleven years (though my favorite submission- “I Killed My Mother”- was not). Proudly multicultural Canada has submitted films in Inuktikut and Hindi as well as French over the past decade and has potential submissions in all three languages this year, plus one in Mandarin Chinese. The Canadians have no less than eight contenders this year, and it’s possible we may see even more when they unveil the line-up at the Toronto International Film Festival. But for now, we have eight. “Maliglutit” (Searchers, dir: Zacharias Kunuk) and “Iqaluit” (Benoit Pilon) are dramas set amongst the indigenous peoples living in Canada’s far north, and both films are by previously submitted directors. “Searchers” is a revenge drama best described as an “Arctic western”, about a man seeking to rescue his kidnapped wife and daughter from an enemy clan. It’s gotten much more festival exposure than missing husband drama “Iqaluit” (co-starring Marie- JosĂ©e Crozee) so it has an edge. Canada’s Asian immigrant communities are represented by China-born Johnny Ma and India-born Deepa Mehta. Johnny Ma got a Canadian Best Picture nod and won Best First Feature at Toronto 2016 for “Old Stone”, a thriller about a taxi driver facing moral dilemmas and red tape in modern-day China. It has the edge over Oscar nominee Mehta’s experimental Hindi-language docudrama “Anatomy of Violence”, about a high-profile gang rape case in India. Canada’s foreign film entries have traditionally been in French, so they could choose leftist opus “Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Up Their Own Graves” (which won best Canadian Film at Toronto 2016, despite a three hour-plus running time),  “A Bag of Marbles” (Un sac de  billes), a drama about two brothers fleeing the Holocaust, “Boundaries” (Pays), a political satire focusing on three women conducting international treaty negotiations, and the upcoming “Et au pire, on se mariera” (loosely translated as “At the very least, we’ll get married”) by Lea Pool, about an Arab-Canadian girl who becomes obsessed with an older man.  Canada is in this to win, so I think the “weirdness” of “Those Who Make Revolution” and “Anatomy of Violence” will knock them out of the running, “Iqaluit” will be considered “too small”, “Boundaries” too local and “A Bag of Marbles” may be considered a majority French production (Canada already selected one of these last year). That leaves three contenders. I predict the Canadian nod will be dark horse thriller “Old Stone” which is more of an audience pleaser than the more challenging runner-up (and supposed frontrunner) “Searchers”. Lea Pool’s new film hasn’t premiered yet but I’m placing it a very close third.


CHILE- "A Fantastic Woman" Chile has a pretty easy decision this year- everyone agrees they will choose critically acclaimed transgender drama “A Fantastic Woman” (Una mujer fantastica) directed by the magnificent Sebastian Lelio (who directed “Gloria”, one of the best snubbed Oscar submissions ever). It won three awards at Berlinale, including Best Screenplay, and transgender stories are a trendy topic. Like most everyone, I’m pretty certain it’s in. What could possibly beat it? The closest things to competition are quirky family dramedy “Family Life” (Sundance), co-directed by Alicia Scherson (“Play”) and Cristian Jimenez (“Bonsai”), and hotly-anticipated sequel “Johnny 100 Pesos: 20 Years Later”. However, “Family” has no buzz, and American audiences won’t remember the first “Johnny 100 Pesos” (which represented Chile in this category way back in 1993!). Youth dramas “Bad Influence” and “Spider Girls” might have contended in a quieter year. This year, it's “Fantastic Woman”.


COLOMBIA- "The Animal's Wife" Colombia doesn’t have as much as they usually do…In fact, they didn’t have a single film in competition at their local Cartagena Film Festival (though eight films were screened in the National Section). I think they’ll probably go with the brutal “The Animal’s Wife” (La mujer del animal; Toronto 2016) about a novice nun who flees a convent to go to her sister’s village where she ends up held captive by a local village thug. It’s a difficult watch but it has very good reviews and is seen as a comeback for director Victor Gaviria (La vendedora de rosas). The runner-up is likely to be “Between Sea and Land” (Audience Award, Sundance) about a man unable to fulfill his dream of going to the ocean due to an obscure medical condition. Other options include “X500” about Afro-Colombians (though two dull films about that community barely got noticed in the Oscar race before), family drama “So Long Enthusiasm” which won Best Colombian Film amidst weak competition in Cartagena, and slight chess-themed drama “The Dragon’s Defense”, which quietly premiered in Director’s Fortnight at Cannes and probably won’t be released in cinemas until after the deadline. In such a weak year, Colombia might also choose a documentary for the first time, e.g. narco doc “Wars of Others” (Guerras Ajenas) by HBO Latin America or “When the Guns Go Silent” about the peace negotiations with the FARC terrorists. My prediction: “The Animals’ Wife”.


COSTA RICA- "The Sound of Things" Costa Rica has reported that thirteen local films will be released in 2017- more than double the previous national record of six, set in 2010. The two front-runners for the Oscars are “The Sound of Things”, about a young nurse trying to get over her cousin’s suicide, and “Abrazame como antes”, about the lives of transsexual prostitutes living their lives far from the well-scrubbed image that makes the country famous. The two films duked it out at the 2017 Costa Rican Film Festival where “The Sound of Things” won Best Costa Rican Film and “Abrazame” was given the Jury Prize. Two upcoming films- “Violeta, al fin” by previously submitted director Hilda Hidalgo and “Dos Fridas” about Frida Kahlo’s Costa Rican caretaker- could also challenge if they turn out to be good. For now, I think “The Sound of Things” is the film to beat…it also competed at the Moscow Film Festival in 2016- a rare Class-A Festival appearance for a Costa Rican film.


CUBA- "The Last Days in Havana" Cuba has submitted only two films in the past five years. Films not only have to be good, they also have to be approved by the government-sponsored film body (ICAIC) that selects the Cuban nominee. Six Cuban films competed at the Habana International Film Festival in December, but only two won awards. “Last Days in Havana” won the Jury Prize and a tech prize and also earned a special screening slot at Berlinale 2017. It’s a nearly plotless film about daily life in Havana and it’s directed by Fernando Perez who has represented Cuba twice before. “Not Like Before” (Ya no es antes), about two lovers who meet in Cuba after forty years separated by the Cold War, is likely to do better with American audiences. It won Best Actor and the Audience Award in Havana. A seventh film- “Santa and Andres”- about a straight/gay friendship a la “Strawberry & Chocolate”- was pulled from the festival when the director refused to abide by the demands of the Cuban censors. Crime thriller “Vientos de la Habana” didn’t win anything but it’s received good notices in Europe and been extended into a TV miniseries version called “Four Nights in Havana”. New drama “Sergio & Sergei” by respected Cuban director Ernesto Daranas (“Conducta”) won’t be released in time. The nearly plotless “Last Days in Havana”- about a gay man and his neighbors- is the least likely to charm the Yakees, but it’s the most likely selection for Cuba, followed by “Not Liked Before”. 


DOMINICAN REPUBLIC- "Woodpeckers" The Dominican Republic is another country seeing film production booming, with around twenty films produced each of the last few years. This year, it’s difficult to see them choosing anything other than acclaimed prison drama “Woodpeckers” (Carpinteros) about male inmates who invent a secret sign language to communicate with the women’s prison next door. It competed at the Sundance Film Festival (a major achievement for a DR film) and director Jose Maria Cabral was selected before (for “Check Mate”, one of my favorite submissions of 2012). Unlikely but possible: boxing drama “Samba” did well at Tribeca and “Luis”, a drama about the moral dilemma faced by a police officer whose son commits a crime. The much-buzzed about “Cocote”, about faith and religious cults, is unlikely to be released in time but it’s probably next year’s submission.


ECUADOR- "Killa" Ecuador skipped the Oscars last year, although they did enter the race for the Goyas with “Alba”, a drama that has played at a number of international festivals including Rotterdam and Mumbai. It’s about a severely introverted 11-year old girl forced to care for her ailing mother. The Hollywood Reporter called it “heartbreaking”. Because of its October 2016 release date, “Alba” was eligible for the Goyas last year but the Oscars this year. However, the film failed to make the nomination stage at the Goyas, meaning it’s likely to have even less luck with Oscar. Probably looking to send something new, Ecuador is thus likely to send “Killa”, touted as the first film mostly in Quechua, the language of the Incas, which was released in March. "Killa" focuses on a Quechua journalist who faces off against a shady mining corporation. It looks like film production is down and Ecuador doesn’t have much to choose from this year.


FIJI- Nothing Fiji became the first Pacific island nation to enter the Oscar race in 2005. They’ve only produced a few feature films in their national history, but they have a thriving film industry as a location for foreign productions. This year, the only somewhat “local” movie I can find anything about is drama “Woh”, a Hindi-language drama about a woman who becomes involved with a man accused of murder. The directors (a married couple) were both born and raised in Fiji, though they made their film in Australia. It will not be sent.


GUATEMALA- "Septiembre o un Llanto en Silencio" Guatemala has submitted films twice and was considered somewhat of a dark horse contender for “Ixcanul” in 2015. This year, I think they may submit “Septiembre o Un Llanto en Silencio” (September, A Silent Cry), a drama set during the civil war of the 1980s. In the film, a woman loses her hearing after she survives a rebel attack on a bus. It’s set to premiere in early September. “Los gigantes no existen”- another drama set during the civil war- probably won’t be released in time but it may contend for next year.


MEXICO- "Un cuento de Circo and a Love Song" Mexico is really unclear this year. For the past two years, they’ve selected style (and big names) over substance, selecting “big” movies starring famous actors (and with large amounts of English) instead of the arthouse favorites. Nobody much liked “Desierto” but the presence of Gael Garcia Bernal and “Gravity” screenwriter Jonas Cuaron was apparently enough for Mexico to send the film to the Oscars. For this reason,  I’m wondering if they will send Oscar nominee Demian Bichir’s directorial debut “Un cuento de Circo & A Love Song”, co-starring Bichir and Eva Longoria (“Desperate Housewives”), about a man raised in a Mexican circus, who ends up in New Orleans. The trailer has no dialogue, so I’m not sure how much of the film is in Spanish and how much is in English. Gael Garcia Bernal also has a new movie- crime drama “Museo”- but I don’t think it will be released in time. Nor will Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma”. However, most of Mexico’s contenders this year are arthouse. People are talking about fiction features “April’s Daughter” (winner, Jury Prize, Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2017), “The Untamed” (Best Director, Venice 2016) and “I Dream in Another Language” (winner, Audience Award, Sundance 2017) as well as documentaries “Devil’s Freedom” (Best Mexican Film, Guadalajara) and “Tempestad”. To that list, I’d add “El sueno del Mara’akame”, which did quite well at the recently announced Ariel nominations…The prizes won’t be handed out until July 11th though only “Mara’akame” and “Tempestad” will be competing there. Somehow, I don’t think any of these films are really likely….so I wouldn’t be surprised if Mexico selects some new film I’m unaware of, perhaps released at the very end of the year. But based on recent history, the Mexican Academy doesn’t like arthouse, so I’ll predict an upset for “Circo” with “I Dream in Another Language”, about a linguist who becomes involved in the lives of the elderly residents of a village who are believed to be the last speakers of a dying language, coming second.   
NEW ZEALAND- "One Thousand Ropes" New Zealand obviously makes most of their films in English, so they only enter the race when they have a film in a foreign language. So far, they’ve sent two films set in New Zealand (in Maori) and one each made by Kiwi directors in Samoa and Afghanistan.  This year, there’s little doubt they’ll send “One Thousand Ropes”, a Samoan-language supernaturally-tinged drama about Samoan immigrants in New Zealand. The story is about a father atoning for his history of violence, and his relationship with his teenaged daughter. It premiered in Berlinale 2017 and its director Tusi Tamasese directed the country’s first-ever Oscar hopeful in 2011. Hopefully it doesn’t have too much English to qualify.

NICARAGUA- "Sunflowers of Nicaragua" Nicaragua has submitted films three times, most recently with Florence Jaugey’s charming female boxing drama “La Yuma” in 2010. They probably won’t submit this year, but they could send Jaugey’s latest film, “Las girasoles de Nicaragua”, which premiered in January 2017. It’s a documentary about sex workers seeking legal reforms that would protect them from violence and abuse at the hand of their clients.

PANAMA- "Ilegitimo" Panama selected two documentaries to go to the Oscars before selecting their first fiction film last year. With their penchant for nonfiction, it’s highly possible they will send another documentary- “La Matamoros”- this year. The film won Best Picture in the regional section of Panama’s international film festival and was directed by Delfina Vidal, whose documentary “Box 25” was submitted but not accepted by AMPAS in 2015 (I’ve never heard a reason why). “La Matamoros” tells the story of feminist and labor activist Marta Matamoros. If they choose a fiction film, the front-runner is “IlegĂ­timo”, a social drama about a young boxer who has to support his girlfriend and his sick mother. I give “Ilegitimo” the slight edge to represent Panama. “Beyond Brotherhood” (Mas que hermanos), a soon-to-be-released drama about two orphaned teenagers co-starring Maria Conchita Alonso, is a potential dark horse.

PARAGUAY- "Los Buscadores" Paragauay was the most notable absentee from last year’s list of submissions. They entered the race for the first time in 2015 and launched an open call for submissions in 2016 but ended up not submitting a film. I’ve read that Paraguay’s most successful film- the brilliant Goya-nominated thriller “7 Boxes”- was considered for submission in 2012 but because Paraguay did not have a recognized committee, it couldn’t be sent. Paraguay will likely try to rectify that omission with the submission of “Los buscadores”, a treasure hunt adventure-comedy by the same co-directors, which is due to premiere in September 2017. They only have a couple of other eligible films, including documentary “Memory Exercises” and race car drama “Thunder”, but they would be highly unlikely choices.

PERU- "The Final Hour" Peru has had a fairly quiet year for cinema. Out of their four main contenders, I’d say the most likely is “The Final Hour”, a based-on-a-true-story political thriller set in the mid 1990s about the pursuit and capture of the leader of the Shining Path guerillas that terrorized Peru for over a decade. Most Americans know nothing about the Shining Path, but hopefully the thriller elements of the film will compensate for that. Director Eduardo Mendoza was selected once before in 2014, and the film will open on September 14th, right before the Oscar due date. That means it will be fresh in the minds of the Peruvian Academy. Its main competition comes from “Rosa Chumbe”, a long-awaited drama about an alcoholic policewoman who is given one final chance to reform and keep her job. It won Best Peruvian feature way back in 2015 but did not managed to get a domestic release until June 2017. Less likely: “One Last Afternoon” is a talky drama about a husband and wife reminiscing about their student activist days while finalizing their divorce. It won the Audience Award at the Lima International Film Festival. Out of the running: “The Dreamer” won Best Peruvian film in 2016 but this juvenile delinquent story has a dismal 4.7 on IMDB and no buzz. 

PUERTO RICO- "Extraterrestrials" Puerto Rico was unceremoniously uninvited from the competition in 2011 when AMPAS inexplicably made a new rule that U.S. territories could not enter the Oscar race (only Puerto Rico was affected). This is extremely unfair and I think that one day Puerto Rico will be invited once again. If that were to happen this year, they’d be likely to send “Extraterrestrials”, a quirky romantic comedy about a Puerto Rican woman “coming-out” to her conservative family after deciding to marry her physicist girlfriend.

URUGUAY- "Breathe" Uruguay doesn’t have many contenders this year, and with the eligibility period three-fourths over, only one (“El sereno”) has been released. I predict Uruguay will send “Respirar” (Breathe), due in August, a drama about a recent divorcee who discovers she’s pregnant with her ex-husband’s child. However, Uruguay typically likes to send comedies, so it’s entirely possible they’ll prefer “Otra historia del mundo” (July 20), about the lives of people in a small town or “Las olas” (The Waves) about an adult man who accidentally returns back in time to his childhood (though we still him as the adult that he is). “Neptunia” looks like a Gregg Araki (my favorite director) film, but that’s probably a bit too out there even for Uruguay. Until these films are actually seen by the public, Uruguay is a difficult one to predict.

VENEZUELA- "The Night of the Two Moons" Venezuela is on the brink of famine and political disintegration but they’ve managed to make some great movies, and their annual Festival del Cine Venezolano featured no less than seventeen new features. Historically, most of their Oscar submissions come from the Festival (though not last year). At first, I was ready to predict “La planta insolente”, a period drama directed by 85-year old Roman Chalbaud. Chalbaud directed Venezuela’s first-ever submission (way back in 1977) and he was honored at this year’s festival. However, “La plante” looks old-fashioned and cheaply made and failed to win a single award. Three Venezuelan films have made a mark on international festivals this year, namely “La Familia” (Cannes), “El amparo” (San Sebastian) and “La soledad” (Audience Award in Miami), although none has yet secured a domestic release. Ultimately, two films dominated the awards at Cine Venezolano, namely "El amparo" (which won six awards including Best Picture) and gritty boxing biopic “El inca” (which won seven, including Director and Screenplay). "El Inca"'s success was a bit surprising since the film had previously been banned due to objections from the real life boxer's family…the ban has since been lifted and the film is eligible. Period drama "Maisanta" won four tech awards, and geriatric road comedy “Mas vivos que nunca” won some sort of People's Choice Award…but the Venezuelan Academy is usually pretty serious.  Venezuela's biggest domestic hit of 2016- transgender drama “Tamara” is also eligible. Last but not least, there’s the upcoming “La noche de las dos lunas” by the director of Goya winner “My Straight Son”, one of the best foreign films of 2012 that was not submitted that year. It’s an intriguing new drama about a woman mistakenly inseminated with twin embryos from another woman, and the battle of both women to keep the kids. It premieres in September. Who knew the race in Venezuela would be so exciting? Top Five:  It’s tough, but I predict “La noche de las lunas” gets the nod, followed by the grim Best Picture winner “El amparo”, a true story from the 80s about fishermen caught between the violence of the longstanding Colombia-Venezuela conflict. followed by boxing biopic "Inca", gender-bending “Tamara” and “La soledad”, about a family trying to survive the current economic crisis.