Sunday, December 10, 2017

Foreign Oscar Predictions- the Submissions from Eastern Europe (20 films)

16. KOSOVO- "Unwanted"
17. AZERBAIJAN- "Pomegranate Orchard"
18. CROATIA- "Quit Staring At My Plate"
19. LITHUANIA- "Frost"
20. UKRAINE- "Black Level"

There's just no room to even consider these five films hailing from republics that emerged from Yugoslavia and the former USSR. For Lithuania and Ukraine, the reviews have been downright harsh. UKRAINE's experimental film "Black Level", about a wedding photographer in a small town, was largely improvised and is said to be a difficult watch. LITHUANIA may have gotten a slot at Cannes Director's Fortnight for "Frost", a grim, talky road movie through war-torn Eastern Ukraine, but nobody seems to like it and I was surprised Lithuania even sent it. I've seen the film from CROATIA- "Quit Staring At My Plate"- which isn't bad at all, but has no chance here. It's about a young nurse living with her dysfunctional white-trash family, who seeks to reclaim her independence when her father is incapacitated by a stroke. Oscar doesn't like misanthropic characters or stories about women. It also has the competition's most disturbing poster. Then there are the two obscure entries from this year's East of the West section at Karlovy Vary- "The Pomegranate Orchard" from AZERBAIJAN and "Unwanted" from KOSOVO. Both films were well-received, but more as representatives of new talent from new countries, rather than potential Oscar nominees. My Azerbaijani friends said they hadn't even heard of "Orchard" a story based on Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" about a man living peacefully with his daughter-in-law, when her estranged husband returns to take his family to Moscow. Kosovo's film- a coming-of-ager about a Dutch-Kosovar boy living with refugee mum in the Netherlands- is too small to compete here. 

11. SERBIA- "Requiem for Mrs. J"
12. ROMANIA- "Fixeur"
13. SLOVAKIA- "The Line"
14. ALBANIA- "Daybreak"
15. ARMENIA- "Yeva"

Chances aren't much better for this group of obscure group of films. All have positive notices but none have the gravitas to make it to the next round. SLOVAKIA selected crime thriller "The Line" about smugglers on the border between Slovakia (an EU member) and Ukraine (a no man's land) in the 1990s. It's supposed to be quite exciting, but probably the wrong genre to get a nomination here. ROMANIA selected "Fixeur", a moral dilemma drama about the power of the media and individual privacy, featuring a group of Romanian paparazzi chasing down the story of an underaged prostitute who has just been deported back to Romania. Romanian New Wave films have only been shortlisted once and "Fixeur" isn't the strongest entry.  I visited ARMENIA this year when "Yeva" was in the theatres, but I didn't meet a single person who had seen it. I haven't seen a single overseas review of it anywhere either. For the record, it's about an Iranian-Armenian woman fleeing an abusive marriage by starting a new life in Nagorno-Karabakh. SERBIA's "Requiem for Mrs. J" has gotten great reviews for its jet-black comedy about a suicidal widow seeking to join her husband, but it's so subtle that it will surely get forgotten. Finally, we have "Daybreak", the grim entry from ALBANIA. In a twist on "Amour", a desperate, newly homeless single mother is offered a new job as caretaker for a dying woman, meaning she has a job and a roof over her head, but only as long as the woman stays alive. It's a compelling story, but the film is so dark and depressing with so many disturbing images as things get worse and worse for Lita, that I don't see it scoring here. 

6. ESTONIA- "November"
7. POLAND- "Spoor"
9. CZECH REPUBLIC- "Ice Mother"
10. SLOVENIA- "The Miner"
All five of these films have their pluses and minuses. Let's take a look:

BOSNIA- "Men Don't Cry"
In Brief: A group of Bosniak, Serbian and Croatian war veterans are brought together 20 years after the civil war for a sort of group therapy session.
Pros: Lots of regional awards (Karlovy Vary, Zagreb, Bratislava), showing the film really resonates at home. It's a subject filled with dramatic tension and Oscar likes male-dominated dramatic stories.
Cons: It's a talky drama about local issues, and other than Bosnia's one win ("No Man's Land"), films about the Yugoslav wars haven't resonated with Oscar.
Bottom Line: Will score well, but too much competition for a spot on the shortlist.

In Brief: A selfless widow with two selfish, adult sons and a dysfunctional grandson finds love (and sex) with a senior citizen ice swimmer.
Pros: It's a charming film...definitely Bohdan Slama's best so far. Zuzana Kronerová gives a wonderful, brave performance. Best Screenplay at Tribeca shows it resonates with US audiences.
Cons: It's a small intimate film....This wonderful unfolds slowly but has a jarring ending that is rather abrupt and sudden. Oscar likes old men, not old women.
Bottom Line: Will score well, but no nom.

ESTONIA- "November"
In Brief: A B&W gothic fairy tale set in the woods of medieval Estonia, featuring witches, ghosts, werewolves, a plague and an enchanted princess.
Pros: It's dazzlingly original, fun to watch and....well....rather bizarre. Dialogue like "Latvians have an ass for a mouth and only shit comes out of it". The opening scene with the kratt and the cow....Wow. A beautiful sad finish.
Cons: It's....well....rather bizarre. Lots of viewers will just be "WTF".....Dialogue like "I can even make your pants dance".
Bottom Line: It's a goner...unless the Elite Committee has a "Dogtooth moment".

POLAND- "Spoor"
In Brief: An Agatha Christie murder mystery if Miss Marple were a hysterical English teacher who loves animals.
Pros: Agnieszka Holland is a visually talented filmmaker. The film is very entertaining and the mystery is mildly engaging. Ends on a high note.
Cons: Critic reviews were actually very mixed. If Holland wasn't the director, I don't think it would have been selected.
Bottom Line: I don't think Holland has enough pull to get it to the shortlist, but the film definitely has some passionate fans.

SLOVENIA- "The Miner:
In Brief: Based on a true story, a Bosnian laborer in Slovenia finds a mass grave from the war, and is told to keep it quiet.
Pros: A strong plotline with a compelling moral dilemma.
Cons: No buzz, no awards.
Bottom Line: A good movie that may be quickly forgotten.

3. GEORGIA- "Scary Mother"
4. HUNGARY- "On Body and Soul"
5. LATVIA- "Chronicles of Melanie"

These three films are confusing...."Chronicles of Melanie" is total Oscar bait- a stark B&W film set during WWII, about a Latvian wife and mother who is separated from her family and placed in a Siberian detention camp- but hasn't really been noticed since it premiered nearly a year ago. Hoping to emulate "Paradise" (another grim WWII film set in the former Soviet Union), tiny LATVIA will struggle to get noticed, but the subject matter is heavy.

GEORGIA has made it to the next round twice, and they had a great film year, with late release "Scary Mother" beating out a number of likely candidates to represent the country. Everyone who sees this family drama- about a middle-aged wife and mother who throws her entire life and being into her writing, at the expense of her marriage and family- says it's amazing, and it's winning awards wherever it is shown, including Locarno, Mumbai, Sarajevo and the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards.

HUNGARY's "On Body and Soul" won the Golden Bear, so getting noticed is not the problem....I just don't see that this quirky romance set in a slaughterhouse is likely to appeal to American Oscar voters. They've never nominated anything like it. It's entirely possibly that the Elite Committee could save it based on their Berlin win, but I think they'll reserve it for something more universally loved. I really think "Body and Soul" is a long shot at best, failing entirely with the Large Committee and getting discussed (but ultimately cut) by the Elite Committee. UPDATED: I saw "On Body and Soul" yesterday.....Filled with disturbing imagery, it's true the Large Committee won't like it (I didn't really like it either....) BUT, I now have a strong feeling that this will be one of the three "saves". It's now on my prediction list.

Of these three, I think Georgia has the best chance of snagging a surprise spot. 

1. RUSSIA- "Loveless"
2. BULGARIA- "Glory"

Winner of the Cannes Jury Prize and the Grand Prize in London, "Loveless" from RUSSIA has been one of the clear favorites since the Russian committee selected it.  Like Zvyagintsev's previous films, this one has gotten great reviews from American and international critics. His latest film is about a separated husband and wife in a "loveless" marriage, who have to come together when their young son goes missing. If it gets a Golden Globe nomination tomorrow morning, it's probably in. 

BULGARIA has quietly been earning a strong reputation for media satire "Glory", which has appeared in two dozen festivals all around the world, racking up a steady stream of awards. It's one of the best of the 26 submissions I have seen so far. because it's so clever and disturbing and thought-provoking.....It really stays with you. In the film, a simple railroad worker finds a large cache of money on the train tracks and returns it to the authorities. His good deed sets into a motion an unexpected series of events, involving him, a self-centered PR woman and his "Glory" watch, an heirloom from his father. It's a dark horse for a nomination and will probably just miss out. 

Now the statistics:

Number of countries from these regions who have participated in the past
: 24

Number of countries participating this year:  20

Number of debuts: Zero. Every Eastern European country has submitted at least once, so no more debuts are possible. 

Number of countries opting out: FOUR. Macedonia, Moldova and Montenegro all announced the formation of selection committees. MACEDONIA announced they had received two eligible submissions- “"When the Day Had No Name" (Berlin) and "Golden Five"- but declined to send either one. Macedonia did the same thing in 2013, inexplicably missing a chance to give free publicity to Macedonian cinema. A really stupid decision. MONTENEGRO announced that no local films had asked to be sent, while there was no news from MOLDOVA. Grumpy BELARUS hasn’t sent a film since 1996 and is no longer on the invite list.

Number of countries I predicted correctly: This was the region where I did the best. I got 9 out of 20 right- Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Kosovo, Latvia, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, and I also had the submissions from Croatia, Hungary, Poland and Ukraine in second place. 

Already Seen: SEVEN. I’ve seen the films from ALBANIA, BULGARIA, CROATIA, CZECH REPUBLIC, ESTONIA, HUNGARY and POLAND. I plan to see the films from Bosnia, Georgia, Kosovo, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia within the next few weeks.

Film I'm most looking forward to seeing
: Probably “Yeva” the Iranian co-production representing ARMENIA. I tried to see it when I was in Yerevan for work, but they only had screenings with Persian subtitles.

Feature Debuts: SIX. Anahit Abad (Armenia), Alen Drljevic (Bosnia), Hana Jusic (Croatia), Gentian Koçi (Albania), Edon Rizvanolli (Kosovo) and Ana Urushadze (Georgia) 

Number of Female Directors:  Eight women from seven countries. In addition to Agnieszka Holland and Kasia Adamik who co-directed “Spoor” (Poland), we have Anahit Abad (Armenia), ldikó Enyedi (Hungary), Kristina Grozeva (Bulgaria), Hana Jušić (Croatia), Hanna Slak (Slovenia) and Ana Urushadze (Georgia).

Oldest and Youngest Directors: Agnieszka Holland, 69, of Poland and Ana Urushadze, 27, of Georgia.

Number of Foreign Languages Represented:  Three films are in Serbo-Croatian (Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia) while the others are in Albanian, Armenian, Azeri, Bulgarian, Czech, Dutch (Kosovo), Estonian, Georgian, Hungarian, Latvian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Slovene and Ukrainian. The Lithuanian film seems to be in a mish-mash of Russian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian and English….Not sure which language (if any) is the majority.

Number of Documentaries: None. 

Number of countries with a realistic chance at making the shortlist: Not many. Maybe five. 

Highest profile film:  Definitely “Loveless” from Russia.

Oscar History: Agnieszka Holland has three Oscar nominations to her name- one for Best Screenplay in 1992 for "Europa Europa" and two for Foreign Film in 1986 for "Bitter Harvest" and in 2012 for "In Darkness". Andrey Zvyagintsev got an Oscar nod for "Leviathan", and was also submitted for "The Return".

Bohdan Slama (Czech Republic) is in the race for the third time after being selected in 2002 for "Wild Bees" and 2005 for "Something Like Happiness". Ilgar Najaf ("Buta", 2012) is competing for Azerbaijan for the second time. 

The Bosnians, Czechs, Hungarians, Poles and Russians have won the Oscar before, while Estonia, Georgia and Serbia have been nominated. 

Controversies and Changes: Russia avoided all controversies by choosing "Loveless". 

Most Notable Omissions:  I think "My Happy Family" from Georgia was the most surprising film cut in the preliminaries.  Also cut: "Distant Angels" (Albania), "Godless" (Bulgaria), "The Constitution" (Croatia), Jan Sverak's "Barefoot" (Czech Republic), "1945" (Hungary) and "Mathilda" (Russia)

Familiar Faces:  Just Vanessa Paradis, who co-stars as an aid worker in the Lithuanian submission. 

Last year's race:   Last year, of the 21 Eastern European films submitted, I managed to see the films from Slovakia (A), Estonia (B+), Montenegro (B), Czech Republic (B) and Ukraine (C-). In my opinion, Slovakia’s “Eva Nova” deserved to win the Oscar. 


Spartak said...

Lithuania - "Frost" is one of the worst films I've seen this year, it highly politicalized film with non-motivative character's actions, long dialogue scenes about "nothing" (sometimes it felt that the director has just told the actors to talk about this or that theme for 5 minutes without particular script lines), obscure ending and

Slovakia- Yeah, it's not bad, but not remarkable enough either even for its genre.

Czech Republic - You text have disappeared so I don't really know what you've planned to write, but... It's a quirky comedy of the type that the Academy used to love so I hope that it may get a spot from the Large Committee.

Georgia - Indeed, an amazing one. I'm happy that Georgia have chosen it over "My Happy Family" (which was also quite good). Though I can hardly see it getting into the shortlist, maybe only if the Elite Committee has a free spot to share.

Hungary - I hope that the Elite Committee will save it. "On Body and Soul" is one of the best films of this year (I personally find it much smarter than "The Square"), it's beautiful and touching, though the scenes in the slaughterhouse will probably rule the Large Committee voters away.

Russia - Zvyagintsev's worst film, but probably it'll be nominated. :( They have also had "Arrhythmia", an excellent film about the relationship of a talented paramedic with his wife. I've seen it in Haifa Film Festival, where it has won the main award over "Loveless", "On Body and Soul" and "Spoor" (among others) and it deserved it, though of course "Loveless" has much better chances at Oscars.

Macedonia - If neither of films is good enough (and "When the Day Had No Name" is quite bad) it's better to stay out than let people think that it's the best thing your country has to propose.

Where're you planning to watch " Bosnia, Georgia, Hungary, Kosovo, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia within the next few week"?

dzong2 said...

Thanks as always for your comments! Every year, you seem to have seen more of these films than anyone else.

I updated the missing countries....And I saw "On Body and Soul" tonight. I was waiting to make my final predictions because I'd heard so many different things about this film, that I wanted to see it for myself. Although I will admit it's a brilliant ending, I did not like the film overall. However, I agree that this is one of the most likely films to be "saved". We'll see!

I'll be seeing the films from Bosnia, Georgia, Hungary, Kosovo, Romania and Slovakia via Festival Scope and the film from Slovenia at the European Union Film Festival here in Washington, DC.

I disagree about Macedonia. Macedonia is a small country and the Macedonian Union of Filmmakers should be trying to get their films seen by an international audience. This is free publicity and I think they should have sent "Golden Five".

I wish I'd gotten to these blog entries earlier but I was moving in September and out of the country for almost all of November.