Frontrunners include Poland’s “Ida,” Turkey’s “Winter Sleep,” Belgium’s “Two Days, One Night” and Sweden’s “Force Majeure”
An all-time record 83 films are competing in this year’s race for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, easily breaking last year’s record of 76 contenders.
A nine-film shortlist will be announced after volunteer members from all branches of the Academy view and score all the entries at a series of screenings between Oct. 13 and Dec. 15. Their six favorites will land on the list alongside three more films chosen by a smaller, hand-picked executive committee. Three phase-two committees will then view all nine shortlisted films over a three-day period, and vote for the five nominees.
Here are this year’s submissions, with links to the film’s trailers when possible. (Some do not include English subtitles.)
Note: An asterisk next to the film title means TheWrap has seen the film. If there is no asterisk (and there usually isn’t, given the size of the field and the lack of U.S. distribution for most of the contenders), the descriptions are based on outside reviews and news reports.
“A Few Cubic Meters of Love”
Director: Jamshid Mahmoudi
A joint production of Iran and Afghanistan, “A Few Cubic Meters of Love” deals with impoverished Afghan immigrants to Iran, and with an Afghan girl and Iranian boy who work together illegally in an Iranian factory. “I’ve tried to recount the painful co-existence of our two peoples over three decades through this tale of impossible love,” said Mahmoudi in a statement.
Dialogue-free film clip.
“Wild Tales” *
Director: Damian Szifron
A sensation at Cannes, Szifron’s spirited black comedy consists of six different stories linked only by violence, revenge and a very twisted sense of humor. The film is uneven, with some of its stories working far better than others, but it builds to the kind of uproarious climax that makes it a real crowd-pleaser – in Cannes, in Argentinian theaters where it was a big hit, and quite possibly at Academy screenings as well (though it may be a bit too gleefully tasteless for more timid voters).
Director: Rolf de Heer
Star David Gulpilil made an indelible screen debut in Nicolas Roeg’s “Walkabout” in 1971, when he was just a teenager – and aficionados who remember that film may greet “Charlie’s Country,” in which Gulpilil plays the title character, with a jolt of both recognition and affection. The low-key drama focuses on an Aboriginal man forced to deal with white incursion into his traditional lifestyle.
“The Dark Valley”
Director: Andreas Prochaska
With an international cast that includes British actor Sam Riley (“Control”) and an approach borrowed from classic Westerns, Prochaska’s 19th century drama is set in a mountain village. “Prochaska has transferred the classic American genre to the alpine landscape, which combined with the rural drama creates something both believable and fascinating,” said the Austrian jury when it announced the selection.
Director: Elchin Musaoglu
Iranian actress Fatemeh Motamed-Arya has won raves for her performance as an aging woman who lost her son in war and is caring for her dying husband. A slow-paced, lyrical film that lingers on the details of peasant life, the drama premiered in Venice and is scheduled for a number of international festivals.
“Glow of the Firefly”
Director: Khalid Mahmud Mithu
Mithu’s second feature finds its central character wrestling with whether to adopt a child who needs her despite the disapproval of her husband’s conservative family. The film won Mithu the best director award at the Brasov International Film Festival.
“Two Days, One Night” *
Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Two-time winners of the Palme d’Or, the Dardenne brothers are the most celebrated Belgian directors, but they’ve never been acknowledged by the Academy. “Two Days, One Night” is a change of pace for the brothers in that it features a movie star, Marion Cotillard — but it is similar to their other work in its quiet, naturalistic style and its examination of pressures on the working class. A Sundance Selects release in the U.S., the film is a subtle and emotional look at a woman trying to save her job by persuading her co-workers to forgo bonuses; it’s not flashy, but it’s affecting in a way that could appeal to voters.
“Forgotten” (“Olvidados”) *
Director: Carlos Bolado
Bolado has directed features, shorts and television shows, but he also has a long career as an editor that includes “Like Water for Chocolate” and “Instructions Not Included.” The story of an elderly man haunted by his role in Operation Condor, a U.S.-backed campaign of repression, torture and killings by South American military dictatorships in the 1970s, “Olividados” is a dramatic but overwrought showcase for Bolado’s whiplash editing. The film jumps back and forth between decades with fervor and a palpable sense of outrage, but reliance on melodrama and overstatement weaken what is a rare look at a shameful era.
Trailer (no subtitles).
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Director: Faruk Loncarevic
Marija Pikic stars in this drama as a young artist who, in the words of director Loncarevic, is trying “to cope with her awakening sexuality and her mother’s imminent death.”
Interview with Loncarevic about “With Mom.”
“The Way He Looks” *
Director: Daniel Ribiero
The feature-length expansion of a 2010 short, Ribiero’s feature debut is a gentle and affecting coming-of-age story about a blind teenage boy who begins to experience feelings for a new male classmate. The film will be released in November in the U.S. by Strand Releasing, after screening and winning awards at numerous LGBT festivals.
Director: Ivan Nitchev
The last in Nitchev’s trilogy of films about the rescue of Bulgarian Jews during World War II, “Bulgarian Rhapsody” drew criticism from other Bulgarian directors who felt that Maya Vitkova’s “Viktoria” and Milko Lazarov’s “Alienation” would better represent the country. But the 74-year-old Nitchev has made 16 features in a career dating back to 1972.
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Director: Xavier Dolan
It came as no surprise that Canada opted to submit “Mommy,” for which 25-year-old prodigy Xavier Dolan shared Cannes’ Jury Prize with Jean-Luc Godard‘s “Farewell to Language.” The film, Dolan’s fifth, concerns the tangled relationships between a violent teenage boy, his widowed mother and a neighboring woman. Typically bold and extravagant, “Mommy” is also one of the colorful director’s most accessible films, a stylish melodrama that has won fans at a number of festivals and has U.S. distribution from Roadside Attractions.
“To Kill a Man” *
Director: Alejandro Fernandez Almendras
The Sundance winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize, Fernandez Almendras’ “To Kill a Man” is a deliberately paced but taut psychological thriller about a father trying to protect his family when a man who shot his son is released from prison and begins tormenting his ex-wife, son and daughter. The film uses a minimum of dialogue to explore the moral and legal dilemmas in an environment where everyone from the government to private citizens can feel impotent.
Director: Philippe Muyl
Director Zhang Yimou has had seven of his films submitted by China, which made his upcoming Sony Classics Release “Coming Home” the presumed favorite to be chosen this year. But China turned elsewhere by selecting “The Nightingale,” a Chinese-French co-production by a French writer-director adapting his last film, the French-language “The Butterfly” (“Le papillon”), and transplanting it to rural China. The film, which follows the journey of an elderly man and a young girl from the city to the country, has a Chinese co-writer and, apparently, enough Chinese participation to qualify.
Trailer (with French subtitles).
Director: Maria Gamboa
A film whose main actors are for the most part non-professionals, “Mateo” follows a teenager who finds a refuge from the violent Colombian streets by taking part in theater studies.
Director: Laura Astorga
A coming-of-age drama with a political twist, “Red Princesses” is based on director Astorga’s childhood as the daughter of Sandinista revolutionaries. The political side of the story reportedly remains mostly in the background, as an 11-year-old girl tries to adapt to new homes and new schools as her parents’ rebel activities continually threaten to upend her life.
Director: Tomislav Mrsic
Another film about the theater and another film inspired by Hollywood Westerns, “Cowboys” is a comic tale about a director who stages a Western-themed play using a ragtag group of locals from his hometown. Based on a popular Croatian stage play, the film is a funny and entertaining character study that also turns surprisingly moving by its conclusion. It reportedly played extremely well at its official Academy screening.
Trailer (no subtitles).
Director: Ernesto Daranas Serrano
Cuba only submits about half the time, and it didn’t enter the foreign-language race in 2012 or 2013. It returns to the competition with the story of an 11-year-old boy and the teacher who tries to protect him from the harshness of the life he lives living with a drug-addicted mother and training fighting dogs. The film won praise in Toronto for its nuanced portrayals and the way it manages to bring a touch of hope to a grim, depressing situation.
“Fair Play” *
Director: Andrea Sedlackova
Like the documentary “Red Army,” “Fair Play” uses sports as a window through which to view life behind the Iron Curtain. The lead character, played by Slovak actress Judit Bardos, is a female runner in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia, who unknowingly becomes part of the doping program used to give that era’s athletes an edge. Based on extensive research, the film tells its story in a straightforward and polished manner.
“Sorrow and Joy”
Director: Nils Malmros
An autobiographical film that covers some of the same territory as Belgium’s devastating 2012 entry, “Our Children,” “Sorrow and Joy” is set in a family in which the mother has killed her young child. Structured with frequent flashbacks, the film has been read as the director’s admission of culpability in a horrifying act from his own life.
Trailer (no subtitles).
Director: Leticia Tonos
A Carribean-set retelling of “Romeo and Juliet” with Dominicans and Haitians substituting for Montagues and Capulets, Tonos’ film puts its star-crossed lovers in the thick of warfare between drug trafficking gangs in the slums of Santo Domingo.
“Silence in Dreamland”
Director: Tito Molina
A former art director in the world of advertising, director Molina has crafted a film that shifts between mundane reality (the daily life of an elderly woman who has lost her husband) and a poetic dreamscape. “The story projected inside the spectator is not the same projected in the cinema screen,” the director has written. “It is born there, but ends up in a special and distant place.”
Director: Mohamed Khan
Actress Yasmin Raeis won the best-actress award at the Dubai Film Festival for her portrayal of a young textile worker in Cairo who pays unseemly attention to a foreman at the factory, and as a result is accused of sleeping with him when a positive pregnancy test is discovered in the trash where she works. The film itself has drawn mixed reviews, with some painting it as a work of female empowerment from veteran director Khan, and others finding it simply reinforcing the country’s double standard.
Director: Zaza Urushadze
A co-production with Georgia, this lyrical film deals with two elderly men — one of them builds crates, the other picks and fills the crates with tangerines — who are all that remain when everyone else in their village has fled to Estonia to escape the 1992 Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. When a battle on one man’s front porch leaves them to care for two wounded soldiers, one from each side, the men are sucked into a war both would prefer to ignore. Though it’s a strongly anti-war film, “Tangerines” is also a lyrical character study that makes its points quietly — a graceful and affecting human story all the more potent for its understatement, and a potential sleeper in the race.
Director: Zeresenay Berhand Mehari
The plight of women in rural Africa is the subject of “Difret,” a drama about a 14-year-old Ethopian girl who is put on trial for murder after killing the man who kidnapped and raped her. Part courtroom drama, part suspense film and part plea for human rights, the film drew mixed reviews when it premiered at Sundance, but the subject matter and the presence of Angelina Jolie as an executive producer should give it a boost.
Short film clip (no dialogue).
“Concrete Night” *
Director: Pirjo Honkasalo
The first narrative feature in more than 15 years for Finnish auteur Pirjo Honkasalo, who has been making documentaries, “Concrete Night” is a beautiful and disturbing black-and-white drama about a teenage boy and his older brother, who is about to go to jail. Unfolding like a fever dream, the film is elusive, slow and disquieting, more concerned with mood than plot. Challenging and occasionally forbidding, “Concrete Night” is so evocative and so sumptuously visual that it could find real champions among more adventurous viewers.
“Saint Laurent” *
Director: Bertrand Bonello
While France usually has a number of films from which to choose, its 2014 slate yielded few obvious frontrunners. “Saint Laurent” drew mixed reviews at the Cannes Film Festival for its wildly stylish and occasionally time-hopping look at the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. Though at times it seems entirely too conventional a biopic, the film gets weirder and more adventurous as it goes along, eventually hitting a kind of rapturous insanity and dark, sublime nuttiness in its final stretches. It might appeal to AMPAS members who liked last year’s similarly extravagant winner, “The Great Beauty,” though “Saint Laurent” dispenses with the Fellini-esque social commentary that made that film so appealing to voters.
Trailer (no English subtitles).
Director: Giorgi Ovashvili
A Georgian, German, French, Hungarian and Kazakhstani co-production, “Corn Island” won the top prize at this year’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival for its depiction of a remote region of Georgia where an elderly farmer and his granddaughter fight the elements and the aftereffects of a 20-year-old civil war.
“Beloved Sisters” *
Director: Dominik Graf
German writer Friedrich Schiller may be best-known for his poetry and his collaborations with Goethe, and for providing the text to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” but director Graf opts to tell the story of how Schiller fell in love with two sisters in late 18th century Weimar. The film, which has landed a U.S. deal with Music Box Films, is more old-fashioned and less gripping than Germany’s usual entries, with a lengthy running time and a heavy reliance on voiceovers.
“Little England” *
Director: Pantelis Voulgaris
Proud home to the strangest Oscar nominee of recent years, “Dogtooth,” Greece has chosen traditional over surreal with this year’s choice, a lush and languid period drama set on a Greek island before and after World War II. Voulgaris based the book on a novel by his wife, Ioanna Karystiani, about two sisters, the man they both love and the tragic reverberations of love denied.
“The Golden Era”
Director: Ann Hui
The closing-night film at this year’s Venice Film Festival, “The Golden Era” is a period drama starring Tang Wei as Xiao Hong, a celebrated Chinese author from the early 20th century. It is the second Oscar entry for Hui, whose “A Simple Life” was Hong Kong’s submission three years ago.
“White God” *
Director: Kornel Mundruczo
Mundruczo’s drama about a society in which mixed-breed dogs are taxed and treated like second-class canine citizens starts out like an update of “Lassie Come Home”: kid and dog are separated, kid and dog go to great lengths to get back together. But the director isn’t interested in making a family film, and the brutality that mounts on both the human and animal sides gets difficult to watch along the way to a near-apocalyptic climax. It’s weird and tough and weirdly satisfying, but also wildly divisive and not for the faint of heart. Although the film won the top prize in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section this year, reports out of its AMPAS screening suggest that it’ll need an executive-committee save to make the shortlist.
“Life in a Fishbowl” *
Director: Baldvin Zophoniasson
Three intersecting stories sketch a portrait of life in Reykjavik before the economic collapse of 2008 in Zophoniasson’s second feature film. The director does a stylish and provocative job of interweaving the stories of a young mother who moonlights as a hooker, an alcoholic poet and a soccer-star-turned-banker, and the film manages to juggle its occasionally unwieldy plotlines to a touching and satisfying conclusion. The film was a huge hit in its homeland, no doubt striking a chord with its pervasive sense of a society and a people struggling in the face of growing unease and looming disaster.
Director: Geetu Mohandas
If the goal was to be nominated, India made one of last year’s biggest miscalculations, sending the grim non-starter “The Good Road” instead of the crowd-pleasing, sure-to-be-shortlisted “The Lunchbox.” This year’s entry is another road movie, the story of a mother who takes her young daughter from their small village to Delhi to find her husband, who left looking for work but has disappeared. The film, which played Sundance in January, is the feature directing debut of Mohandas, well known as an actress in India.
Director: Hanung Bramantyo
Biographical films about national heroes are often submitted in the Oscar foreign-language race, generally without much success. “Soekarno” is Indonesia’s version, a drama about the country’s first president, who fought for Indonesian independence and was imprisoned by the Dutch East Indies government in the early 20th century. Soekarno’s daughter has complained about the portrayal of her father.
Trailer (no subtitles).
Director: Reza Mirkarimi
Mirkarimi would have represented Iran in the Oscar race in 2013 with his film “A Cube of Sugar,” but the country opted to boycott that year to protest the anti-Islamic video “Innocence of Muslims.” His new film, his sixth, is about a taxi driver enlisted to take a young pregnant woman to the hospital.
Video feature (no English subtitles).
Director: Batin Ghobadi
A crime drama about a police captain whose life is haunted by a childhood tragedy, “Mardan” has been compared to Nuri Bilge Ceylan‘s “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.” The film is set in Iraqi Kurdistan, and is a slow-paced drama about tough men in a tough environment.
Director: Tommy Collins
Another film by Collins, “Kings,” represented Ireland in the Oscar race seven years ago, one of the two other times the country has submitted an entry. “The Gift,” made in a mixture of Irish and English, is a thriller about the crew of a rescue boat in an impoverished Irish village, who must decide what to do when they find an abandoned fishing boat with a cargo of illegal drugs.
“Gett, the Trial of Viviane Amsalem” *
Directors: Shlomi Elkabetz and Ronit Elkabetz
“A Separation,” Iran’s Oscar-winning entry from 2011, dealt with a wife asking her husband for a divorce in order to leave the country with her daughter. “Gett, the Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” which became Israel’s entry by winning the top Ophir Award, also deals with a wife petitioning for divorce, which in this case is in the hands of rabbi judges in a system that favors the husband to an absurd, almost Kafkaesque degree. Dark, troubling and purposely repetitive, the film takes place over a number of years, and consists almost entirely of dialogue that takes place in a courtroom, to which co-director and star Ronit Elkabetz’s title character must repeatedly return. Music Box Films has U.S. rights to the film, which premiered in the Directors Fortnight section at Cannes.
“Human Capital” *
Director: Paolo Virzi
Italy is both the category’s defending champion, winning for “The Great Beauty” last year, and its biggest all-time winner, with 14 wins in the category over the years. Its current entry begins in the aftermath of a party that looks as if it could have come from “Great Beauty” — and like that film it is partially a look at Italy’s big money and high society. But Virzi’s drama is also a mystery of sorts, one that slowly unfolds as the director shows the action in half-hour chunks from the point of view of three different characters, one at a time. Polished and suspenseful, the film finds a rich and fruitful territory in exploring greed, ambition and excess during economic hard times.
“The Light Shines Only There”
Director: Mipo Oh
An adaptation of the novel by Yasushi Sato about the love affair between a young unemployed man and an emotionally fragile woman, “The Light Shines Only There” is a dark drama reportedly inspired by American and Japanese films from the 1970s. Stars Go Ayano and Makasi Suda have won raves for their performances as a couple facing pressures both internal and external.
Trailer (no English subtitles).
“Three Windows and a Hanging”
Director: Isa Qosja
Like much of Balkan cinema to this day, Qosja’s film is set in a landscape haunted by the war that wracked the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The lead character is a schoolteacher who tells a newspaper journalist that a number of women in the village were raped by Serbian forces during the war, and is ostracized and driven away for disgracing her family by speaking out.
“Kurmanjan Datka Queen of the Mountains” *
Director: Sadyk Sher-Niyaz
With a $1.5 million budget that makes it the most expensive film ever made in Kyrgyzstan, Sher-Niyaz’s directorial debut tells the story of a true-life 19th century woman who became an unexpected leader in her country’s fight for independence from the Russians. The film has an epic scale and a sumptuous look, though it moves at a surprisingly deliberate pace, even in its action scenes.
“Rocks in My Pockets” *
Director: Signe Baumane
One of the most unusual entries in the competition, Baumane’s “funny film about depression” (to use her own words) is an animated film that examines the strains of mental illness and suicidal urges that occurred in a number of women in the director’s family, including Baumane herself. Narrated by the director in what is essentially a long monologue that tries to make sense of her own tortured thoughts, the film is at times playful and darkly funny, at other times sad and wrenching. A version with an English-language voiceover (also by Baumane) is entered in the Oscar animated-feature competition.
Trailer with English narration.
Director: Amin Dora
The film’s Facebook page calls it “a social comedy giving you a closer insight about the struggles of a humble yet special Lebanese family.” The story deals with parents in a small Lebanese town whose first son is a special-needs child – or, as one neighbor says, he’s “not just disabled, he’s a demon.” Actor Georges Khabbaz, who plays the father, won the best-actor award at the Murex d’Or, Lebanon’s artistic awards. “Ghadi” was originally selected as Lebanon’s entry last year, until a release date change made it ineligible.
Director: Ignas Jonynas
A thriller about an ambulance driver with a gambling addiction, Jonynas’ first feature film has screened at more than two dozen film festivals around the world. It stars Vytautas Kaniusonis as the paramedic who puts his patients at risk to pay off his gambling debts.
Trailer (no dialogue).
“Never Die Young” *
Director: Pol Cruchten
Part documentary and part art piece, Crutchen’s 66-minute film is a spare, odd and disquieting memoir of sorts about the director’s cousin, who became addicted to heroin as a teenager and spent much of his life as a paraplegic. Scenes are not re-enacted as much as they are suggested with the use of voiceover, silent actors in masks and empty rooms, streets and landscapes.
“To the Hilt”
Director: Stole Popov
“To the Hilt” offers another take on the American Western, with a brawny (and seemingly a little pulpy) look at politics and tradition during the era when Macedonia was part of the Ottoman Empire. A European woman becomes involved in the lives of three different men in the aftermath of the failed Macedonian uprising of 1903, with dramatic consequences.
Director: Rebecca Cremona
Based on a real-life fishing boat accident in 2008, Malta’s first Oscar entry is a beautifully shot, dark drama that mixes the story of a family of fishermen with the plight of African immigrants crossing the Mediterranean in search of new homes. The immigration problem has been explored in past Oscar submissions from Southern Europe, but “Simshar” gives it a wrenching twist.
Director: Abderrahmane Sissako
The first-ever entry from Mauritania is a quiet, restrained and in the end devastating indictment of religion run amuck in a small African village under the control of Islamic militants. Director Sissako, whose film debuted in the main competition at Cannes this year, has a knack for composing images as striking as they are deeply unsettling. An upcoming U.S. release from Cohen Media Group, the film is timely, disturbing and most likely a real contender for the shortlist.
Trailer (no English subtitles).
Director: Sebastian del Amo
In recent years Mexico has submitted tough, critically-acclaimed dramas like “Heli” and “Miss Bala,” without much success at the Oscars. They’ve gone the other direction with what appears to be a lighter, more celebratory biopic of the Mexican comic actor best known for playing David Niven’s sidekick in “Around the World in 80 Days.”
Director: Igor Cobileanski
Co-written by noted Romanian director Corneliu Pomumboiu (“Police, Adjective”), “The Unsaved” is a grim urban drama about a young man coming of age in desperately tough circumstances — a genre familiar to viewers of much of the Eastern European Oscar submissions in recent years. In its film-festival bookings, it won measured praise for its low-key realism and occasional humor.
“The Kids from Marx and Engels Street”
Director: Nikola Vukcevic
A family drama that runs the gamut from murder to first sexual experiences, the film from prolific stage and documentary director Vukcevic follows two brothers whose paths intersect over the course of an eventful day.
Trailer (no English subtitles).
“The Red Moon”
Director: Hasan Benjelloun
A biopic of the blind Moroccan musician Abdeslam Amer from birth to death, “The Red Moon” features another blind composer, Fttah Negadi, in the lead role. It is the first Moroccan film to depict the military coup of 1971, which Amer was forced to announce when troops stormed the radio building he was visiting.
Arabic news report (includes some footage starting around 2:30).
Director: Yadavkumar Bhattarai
Prior to the 1920s, certain elements of Nepali culture dictated that a wife should throw herself onto the funeral pyre of her husband after his death. “Jhola” is based on a story about that practice by writer Krishna Dharawasi, and won acclaim for Garima Panta in the role of the formerly assertive wife who is expected to kill herself (and leave her son an orphan) at her husband’s funeral.
Trailer (no English subtitles).
Director: Paula van der Oest
“Accused” is known in its home country as “Lucia de B.” — a name derived from Lucia de Berk, a real-life nurse who was unjustly sentenced to life in prison for multiple murders. Director van der Oest was also responsible for “Zus & Zo,” which was nominated in the foreign-language category in 2002.
Trailer (no English subtitles).
“The Dead Lands” *
Director: Toa Fraser
New Zealand has only submitted two other films, neither of which made the Academy’s nine-film shortlist. Its third entry is a violent action film starring James Rolleston as a teenage Maori warrior who must recruit a mysterious warrior to help him avenge the murder of his father and the slaughter of his tribe. Part martial-arts epic and part spiritual journey, the film is likely the only foreign-language entry to admit inspiration from Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s “Commando.”
“1001 Grams” *
Director: Bent Hamer
You could call “1001 Grams” a light film about heavy things — a dry, wry and quietly compelling look at a woman whose solitary, ordered life begins to fray when her father is hospitalized and she’s entrusted with the safekeeping of Norway’s national prototype kilo (the country’s ultimate standard of weight). Placid and poetic, the film takes its time but pays off. Hamer has directed three of Norway’s last 12 Oscar submissions, though neither of his previous films (“Kitchen Stories” in 2003 and “O’Horten” in 2007) were nominated.
Director: Afia Nathaniel
Pakistan’s 2013 Oscar entry, “Zinda Bhaag,” was its first since “The Veil” 50 years earlier. But it’s back again with “Dukhtar,” in which female director Nathaniel tells the story of a woman who flees her village to protect her 10-year-old daughter from a promised marriage to a brutal tribal chieftain. Beautifully shot but melodramatic, the film is less an examination of cultural injustice than a suspense story about survival.
“Eyes of a Thief”
Director: Najwa Najjar
With two nominations in the last four years, including last year’s “Omar,” Palestine has been unusually successful in the Oscar race. As with their other successful submissions, “Eyes of a Thief” is focused on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, though the fact-based story of a former Israeli prisoner who returns to his home on the West Bank harboring secrets.
Arabic news report (includes some film clips).
Director: Abner Benaim
Panama has never before entered the Oscar race, and its first entry is an eye-raising choice: a documentary about the 1989 American invasion of Panama, which was designed to oust General Manuel Noriega. The film features interviews with survivors of U.S. bombings, as well as historians and scholars who tell of American misdeeds and miscalculations.
Trailer (no subtitles).
“The Gospel of the Flesh”
Director: Eduardo Mendoza de Echave
The Chicago Latino Film Festival described the film succinctly: “Three lives in search of redemption intersect in the streets of Lima.” The intersecting stories attempt to add up to a portrait of the city’s economic, moral and legal troubles.
Trailer (no subtitles).
“Norte, the End of History”
Director: Lav Diaz
In what is by far the longest of this year’s entries, Diaz has made a four-hour-and-10-minute epic about intertwining lives in the Philippines, with a murder connecting an upper class intellectual, a loan shark and a lower-class man struggling to survive. Based on Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” the film premiered at Cannes and also screened at the Locarno, Toronto and New York festivals.
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
“Ida” has probably been more widely seen in the United States than any other contender so far this year, with a lengthy and successful arthouse run that grossed $3.6 million. Gorgeously composed and shot in stunning black-and-white, the film quietly and slowly sketches the story of a novitiate nun who attempts to uncover details about her parents’ deaths in World War II, only to uncover facts that cause her to question her own identity. Stark, spare, subtle and spiritual, the film is a successor to the work of the French master Robert Bresson; the spell it casts may be too minimalist for some, but its almost universally positive reviews, its strong festival and boxoffice showings and its singular beauty easily make it one of the year’s strongest contenders.
“What Now? Remind Me”
Director: Joaquim Pinto
Joaquim Pinto’s film is one of a few documentaries submitted in the foreign-language category the year after the doc “The Missing Picture” landed a nomination. It’s about Pinto himself, who uses the film to examine his life with HIV, his work, his personal life, and the experimental drug treatments he’s undergoing.
“The Japanese Dog”
Director: Tudor Cristian Jurgiu
Romania is still looking for its first Oscar nomination despite a resurgent national cinema that has produced classics like “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” and “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” and this year’s entry appears to be softer and friendlier than usual. “The Japanese Dog” is about an elderly farmer who keeps to himself after the death of his wife, until he’s forced out of his shell by the arrival of his son, his Japanese daughter-in-law and their young son.
Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Breaking Russia’s recent streak of submitting brawny period pieces with little or no chance of being nominated, Zvyagintsev’s slow, majestic and searing drama is one of the race’s strongest contenders. Adapting the Book of Job to paint a compelling and damning portrait of modern Russia, the film focuses on a man who must fight the corrupt local government that wants to steal his land. While it didn’t win the Palme d’Or that many Cannes-goers thought it deserved, it did take that festival’s award for best screenplay.
“See You in Montevideo”
Director: Dragan Bjelogrlic
Three years ago, Serbia’s Oscar submission was “Montevideo, God Bless You,” about the country’s unlikely involvement in the soccer World Cup in 1930. That film didn’t make the shortlist, but now they’re back with its sequel, also directed by Bjelogrlic. The film, based on a book by sports journalist Vladimir Stankovic, was a hit in Serbia.
Trailer (no subtitles).
Director: Sanif Olek
Olek’s film centers on a live-in nurse whose cranky, elderly boss doesn’t like her cooking or the songs she sings in the kitchen – but that cooking and those songs are ingredients to “remedy these broken hearts and bring them together to sing the same tune,” according to the film’s Facebook page.
“A Step Into the Dark”
Director: Miloslav Luther
“A Step Into the Dark” is yet another examination of the echoes of World War II, always a popular subject for Oscar foreign-language entries. In this case, the film centers on a doctor struggling to reconcile his post-war life with the knowledge that during the conflict, he was forced to execute innocent people.
Trailer (no English subtitles).
Director: Marko Santic
A coming-of-age story about a teenager searching for his father’s grave after his release from the youth-care center where he’s lived for the past nine years, “Seduce Me” is the feature debut for writer-director Santic. He calls the film “a portrait of young people who find safety only in the company of each other, but fate often tears them apart.”
Director: Ntshavheni wa Luruli
South Africa has been nominated twice and won the Oscar eight years ago for “Tsotsi,” but “Elewani” is the first of their films to be shot in the Tshivenda language, a Bantu language from the northern region of South Africa. The film deals with a young woman who returns home to her village after graduating from the University, only to be told that her parents won’t accept her choice of husband and have bethrothed her to a local king.
Director: Shim Sung-bo
Popular on the festival circuit, “Haemoo” (“Sea Fog”) is based on a 2007 play about the true story of a Korean fishing vessel that tried to make extra money smuggling illegal Chinese immigrants into the country. A suspenseful and tragic story that its director says is about “humans’ inborn desires, loneliness and ambiguity,” the film was produced by “Snowpiercer” director Bong Joon-Ho.
“Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed” *
Director: David Trueba
Trueba’s brother Fernando directed “Bell Epoque,” which won the foreign-language Oscar 20 years ago. David, a novelist and screenwriter who began directing movies shortly after his brother’s Oscar win, is now in the race with a film set in 1966, and inspired by the true story of an English teacher who took a road trip to Almeria to meet his idol John Lennon, who was shooting the movie “How I Won the War” with Richard Lester. A sweet, charming and funny character study that uses humor to lightly suggest the currents that would eventually change Spanish society, the film won six Goya Awards, Spain’s version of the Oscar, including Best Film and Best Director.
“Force Majeure” *
Director: Ruben Ostlund
Ostlund’s film, which won the Un Certain Regard jury prize at Cannes this year, is set in a remote ski resort, where a family has gone on vacation. When a controlled avalanche seems to be on the verge of wiping out the restaurant where the family is dining, the father’s impulsive reaction creates rifts that widen over the course of the next few days. The film is a subtle character study that leavens serious examinations of human behavior with humor, and it has to be considered a solid contender for a nomination.
Director: Stefan Haupt
A docudrama about a publication that was blamed for the murders of gay men in Zurich in the 1940s and ’50s, “The Circle” mixes dramatizations of the life of schoolteacher Ernst Ostertag and drag performer Robi Rapp with current interviews with the real Ostertag and Rapp. It won the award for best documentary at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, and was acquired in North America by Wolfe Video.
Director: Midi Z
Director Midi Z is based in Taiwan but raised in Burma, where he’s set his story of poor villagers who turn to drug use and drug sales to escape their dead-end lives.
“The Teacher’s Diary”
Director: Nithiwat Tharathorn
Thailand’s recent entries have ranged from the surreal 2010 Cannes winner “Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives” to this sentimental romantic drama about a lonely teacher in a rural school who falls in love with his predecessor, who’d left her diary behind in the classroom. It was one of the year’s biggest hits in its home country, making more than $3 million at the Thai box office.
“Winter Sleep” *
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Ceylan made the shortlist (but didn’t get a nomination) six years ago with “Three Monkeys,” and also represented his country three years later with “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.” His followup, set in a snowbound mountain town, has less of a narrative than those films; it’s more than three hours of conversations about evil, conscience and coexistence, a film that TheWrap said “walks a fine line between mesmerizing and unendurable” when it screened (and won the Palme d’Or) at Cannes. Ceylan is a master of composition, and those who can sink into his film’s meditative rhythms may find it to be rich, subtle and emotionally wrenching. The film will most likely require a “save” from the more adventurous executive committee to make the shortlist, but it will likely get that save.
Trailer (no English subtitles).
Director: Oles Sanin
Russia is known for occasionally selecting films based on their political content, but Ukraine may be turning the tables: “The Guide,” which was a surprise (and controversial) choice over the more acclaimed “The Tribe,” is set during a deadly Soviet-engineered famine that Stalin used to suppress Ukrainian farmers in the 1930s. Given the current conflict between Ukraine and Russia, contemporary resonance seems obvious.
Director: Nihat Seven
For the past nine years, countries have been able to submit films that are not in the originating country’s indigenous language, which has allowed the United Kingdom to enter films set in Afghanistan (“Afghan Star”) and the Philippines (“Metro Manila”). “Little Happiness,” the UK’s first Turkish-language entry, follows a young couple who choose to elope to a small town when the girl’s parents refuse to approve of her relationship with a truck driver. Directed by a filmmaker born in Turkey but educated in England, the film deals with honor killing, a topic that has surfaced regularly in Oscar entries from Muslim countries over the past few years.
Director: Alvaro Brechner
Director Brechner, whose feature debut “Bad Day to Go Fishing” was Uruguay’s Oscar submission five years ago, has said his new film is about an old man “who’s afraid of oblivion, and embarks on a quixotic and epic adventure.” The film was made with financing from Germany and Spain as well as Uruguay.
Trailer (no English subtitles).
Director: Alberto Arvelo
This film big-budget historical drama had a U.S. release from Cohen Media Group, a cast that includes “Carlos” star Edgar Ramirez as South American revolutionary Simon Bolivar and a local connection: L.A. Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel has composed his first film score for the movie.