A complete guide to the 50-plus submissions in the Oscar foreign-language race
Here are the films that have been accepted as contenders in the Oscars' 2012 Best Foreign-Language Film category. These movies have been chosen by their home countries, and reviewed and approved by the Academy's Foreign-Language Award Executive Committee.
The 71 submissions are a new record, six more than the previous high of 65.
Afghanistan: "The Patience Stone"
Director: Atiq Rahimi
"The Patience Stone" is an adaptation of the director's 2010 book, which was inspired by the murder of an Islamic woman whose book of poetry so incensed her husband that he killed her. The film centers on a revealing monologue delivered by actress Golshifteh Farahani to her character's husband, who lies in a coma. "Too much like watching a filmed stage play for its own good," wrote Kaleem Aftab in a review from the Toronto Film Festival.
Director: Joni Shanaj
After having its 2011 entry disqualified because it was made by an American director, Albania didn't have much choice: "Pharmakon" is reportedly the country's only 2012 film that meets the Oscar eligibility requirement. The film deals with a young pharmacist working to develop a drug to cure unhappiness.
Director: Said Ould Khelifa
One of the many foreign submissions that screened at this year's Toronto Film Festival, "Zabana!" deals – as have a number of the country's past entries – with Algeria's struggle for independence from France. TIFF programmer Rasha Salti said the film "brings a documentarylike precision" to its depiction of the life of Ahmed Zabana, an Algerian militant whose execution in 1956 led directrly to the Battle of Algiers six months later.
Argentina: "Clandestine Childhood"
Director: Benjamin Avila
A coming-of-age story set during an impossible time to come of age — the "Dirty War," a time of guerilla conflict between Argentinian rebels and the repressive military-backed government – the film draws on the childhood experiences of director Avila, whose mother was a rebel who went missing in 1979. Avila's blend of the personal and the political is marked by a few abrupt shifts into dramatic animated sequences, which are used to illustrate the toughest and most violent scenes.
Armenia: "If Only Everyone"
Director: Natalia Belyauskene
One of the few comedies entered in the race, "If Only Everyone" follows a Russian-Armenian woman on a journey to Armenia to plant a tree on the grave of her father. The film was awarded the Ecumenical Jury prize at the Golden Apricot Film Festival in Yerevan, Armenia, where the jury commented, “This film addresses the legacy of the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan … It is about how we can come to see our common humanity even in those once seen as only as ‘the enemy’.”
Director: Cate Shortland
You wouldn't expect Australia to submit a World War II story, but there's no denying the time-honored appeal of Nazis and WWII to voters in this category. Shortland's film deals with five children who travel nearly 600 miles through war-ravaged Germany to their grandmother's house after their Nazi parents are taken into custody by the Allies at the end of the war. It is an Australian/German co-production.
Director: Michael Haneke
A quiet, slowly-paced and devastating examination of an older couple facing the gradual deterioration of age, "Amour" won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and features remarkable performances from French cinematic icons Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. It is almost unimaginable that it won't make the shortlist, and it has to be considered one of the favorites to win.
Director: Ilgar Najaf
Written and directed by Najaf, "Buta" is a black-and-white drama of intersecting stories in a small village, with the main character a young orphan befriended by an elderly man. It was named the best children's feature at last year's Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
Bangladesh: "Pleasure Boy Komola" ("Ghetuputra Kamola")
Director: Humayun Ahmed
Ahmed, who died in July, was a novelist and playwright whose work has made him perhaps the most popular Bengali writer of recent times. "Ghetuputra Kamola," which deals with a troupe of adolescent boys performing in a musical theater style known as "Ghetu Gaan," was his 12th film.
Belgium: "Our Children" ("A perdre la raison")
Director: Joachim Lafosse
A surprise nominee last year for "Bullhead," Belgium has opted for a film that screened in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes under the title "Loving Without Reason." The film stars Emilie Dequenne, who won Un Certain Regard's best actress award, in the true story of a woman who killed her five children.
Bosnia & Herzegovina: "Children of Sarajevo" ("Djeca")
Director: Aida Begic
"Children of Sarajevo" is another recent entry in Cannes' Un Certain Regard program, and another winner: It took home the special distinction award at the festival. Set in a city devastated by the Bosnian war of the 1990s, the film "creates a disturbing feeling of a city haunted and menaced by its past," according to Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian.
Brazil: "The Clown" ("O Palhaco")
Director: Selton Mello
Mello directed, co-wrote and stars in a comedic drama about a second-generation clown who worries that he's not funny anymore, and decides to leave the circus and get a job in the real world. The film did good business in Brazil and won the top award at the Paulinia Festival.
Directors: Valeri Yordanov and Ivan Vladimirov
Director Yordanov also wrote and stars in this story of six youngsters from Sofia who escape the city and spend a summer at a beach on the Black Sea. The film alternates lush widescreen landscapes with first-person mimicam confessionals.
Cambodia: "Lost Loves"
Director: Chhay Bora
The first Cambodian film in more than two decades to deal with the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, "Lost Loves" is drawn from the story of screenwriter Khauv Sotheary's mother, who lost seven members of her family to the regime. Director Chhay Bora calls the film a "docu-drama [which] actually brings you to the experience by making you feel like you're in it."
Canada: "War Witch"
Director: Kim Nguyen
Winner of the best narrative feature award at the Tribeca Film Festival, "War Witch" will try to make it three in a row for Canada, which was nominated last year for "Monsieur Lazhar" and in 2010 for "Incendies." The film was shot in the Congo, and deals with child soldiers in Africa though the point-of-view of a woman telling her story to her unborn child.
Director: Pablo Larrain
A political drama that won the Directors Fortnight prize at Cannes and was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, Larrain's film stars Gael Garcia Bernal as an ad man working to remove former dictator Augusto Pinochet from office in a 1988 referendum. The film is "the closest thing to a masterpiece that I've seen so far here in Cannes," wrote Time Out New York reviewer David Fear.
China: "Caught in the Web"
Director: Chen Kaige
A leading figure in the so-called Fifth Generation of Chinese filmmakers, "Farewell My Concubine" director Chen Kaige turns to a modern-day story cyber-bullying with his film about a seriously ill young woman who becomes an object of public scorn after a video of her being rude on a bus goes viral on the internet. Deborah Young called it a "fast-moving, densely-packed black dramedy" with "a top-drawer cast."
Colombia: "The Snitch Cartel" ("El Cartel de los Sapos")
Director: Carlos Moreno
No doubt the only foreign-language entry that includes Tom Sizemore in its cast, Moreno's film is based on the life of former drug trafficker Andres Lopez, who co-wrote the screenplay after turning his story into a memoir and a telenovela.
Croatia: "Vegetarian Cannibal"
Director: Branko Schmidt
Eastern European countries have submitted a number of grim and graphic dramas in recent years, few of which have gotten any traction from the Academy. This one has drugs, gambling, corruption, prostitution and an amoral gynecologist who does illegal abortions; it hardly sounds like something the voters will embrace, though Cineuropa critic Vladan Petkovic called it "simple, direct and effective."
Czech Republic: "In the Shadow" ("Ve stinu")
Director: David Ondricek
Alternately titled "In the Shadow of the Horse," Ondricek's work is a film noir crime drama that takes place in Prague in 1953. Though it is set in the former Czechoslovakia and made by a Czech director, the film is an international collaboration, a Czech-Slovak-Polish-Israeli coproduction with crew members from across Central Europe.
Denmark: "A Royal Affair" ("En kongelig affaere")
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
A lavish costume drama about the scandalous relationship between the 18th Century Danish queen Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) and royal physician Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), Arcel's film won raves at Telluride and Toronto for its fresh take on a sometimes stuffy genre. "The sumptuous, epic 'Affair' should appeal to anyone who has the slightest soft spot for tragic royal romances, and even some of us who didn't know we did," wrote Chris Willman at TheWrap.
Dominican Republic: "Check Mate" ("Jaque Mate")
Director: Jose Maria Cabral
A game-show host takes calls from the audience on his show, only to encounter a caller who claims to have taken the host's wife and son hostage. The film was chosen from a record 10 eligible Dominican films.
Estonia: "Mushrooming" ("Seenelkaik")
Director: Toomas Hussar
Hussar's film follows a politician whose trip to the woods for rest and relaxation goes terribly wrong. Twitchfilm's Todd Brown calls it "a wry comedy … that starts as a seemingly tame character-based comedy before slowly ramping up to ever-increasing levels of black comedy and social satire."
Finland: "Purge" ("Puhdistus")
Director: Antti J. Jokinen
Based on Sofi Oksanen's novel, "Purge" is, in the words of its official website, "a breathtakingly suspenseful story of two women dogged by their own shameful pasts and the dark, unspoken history that binds them." It is set in Soviet-occupied Estonia in the decades following World War II.
France: "The Intouchables"
Directors: Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache
If ever there was a slam-dunk general-committee selection, "The Intouchables" is it. A crowd-pleasing tale of a wealthy quadriplegic and his working-class caregiver, it set box-office records overseas and did good business when the Weinstein Company released it in the U.S. earlier this year. Along with "Amour," it one of the two foreign-language entries that might even have a shot at a Best Picture nomination, if enough voters see it.
Georgia: "Keep Smiling"
Director: Rusudan Chkonia
A group of poor mothers enter a beauty contest in an attempt to win $25,000 and an apartment, but the exploitative contest collapses into a massive fight. Chkonia's absurdist comedy was inspired by stories she heard of an actual beauty contest while shooting a documentary; it recently screened in the independent Venice Days section running concurrent with the Venice Film Festival.
Director: Christian Petzold
Germany's selection has drawn comparison to "The Lives of Others," which won the foreign-language Oscar in 2006. Like that film, "Barbara" deals with East Germany during the Cold War, in this case with a rural doctor who considers defecting to the West. It's one of the highest-profile entries at this point, with raves from Berlin, Telluride and Toronto.
Greece: "Unfair World"
Director: Filippos Tsitos
"Half the time you don't know whether to laugh or cry," wrote Eye for Film's Robert Munro in a lukewarm review of this film about a police interrogator ensnared in a complex plot involving a cleaning lady and a wad of cash. Still, the film seems to be almost straightforward compared to Greece's last two entries, the surprise nominee "Dogtooth" and the equally bizarre (and unnominated) "Attenberg."
Director: Mike Magidson
A story of city life meeting rural tradition, "Inuk" follows a 16-year-old boy from an abusive family who is sent to the far north of Greenland, where he embarks on a seal-hunting trip with a local hunter. The film has won awards at a number of international film festivals, including fests in Nashville, Anchorage, Nice, Savannah and Paris.
Hong Long: "Life Without Principle"
Director: Johnnie To
A prolific filmmaker and cult favorite outside of Hong Kong for his crime films, Johnnie To has directed more than 50 films and produced dozens more. "Life Without Principle" deals with a bank officer, a policeman and a criminal dealing with the financial crisis, but it hasn't received the raves of the director's past films like "Election." "'Life Without Principle' witnesses a veteran filmmaking team brilliantly capturing the zeitgeist and seriously failing their screenwriting exam," wrote Time Out Hong Kong reviewer Edmund Lee.
Hungary: "Just the Wind" ("Csak a szel")
Director: Bence Fliegauf
Winner of the Jury Grand Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, "Just the Wind" is based on a true story of murders in the Hungarian gypsy community. Fliegauf's film tells the fictionalized story of the community living in fear after a spate of race-motivated attacks. CineVue's review from Berlin said the film "focuses on the harrowing effects of these hate crimes without ever attempting to make a misguided social political statement."
Iceland: "The Deep" ("Djupio")
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Fellow foreign-language directors Michael Haneke and Lasse Hallstrom are U.S. arthouse faves, but Kormakur is a rarity in that he's gone from major-studio Hollywood action movies like "Contraband" and the upcoming "2 Guns" to smaller non-English projects. This Icelandic-language drama, which recently screened in Toronto, is based on the true story of a man who survived the sinking of a fishing boat only to find himself washed up on an uninhabited lava field.
Director: Anurag Basu
Bollywood star Ranbir Kapoor plays a deaf-mute boy who befriends an autistic girl (Priyanka Chopra) in 1970s Darjeeling; the film has done good business and received positive reviews in India. A minor controversy erupted in the aftermath of the film's selection, when director Shoojit Sircar congratulated the makers of "Barfi" but publicly blasted the producers of his film, "Vicky Donor," for not submitting it to the jury for consideration.
Indonesia: "The Dancer" ("Sang Penari")
Director: Ifa Isfansyah
"The Dancer" is a love story set in the '60s and focused on a military officer and a young dancer who has bewitched a village. The film, one of the first to address the mass killings of suspected communists in 1965, won four awards, including Best Picture, at the 2011 Indonesian Film Festival.
Israel: "Fill the Void"
Director: Rama Burshtein
The story of an Orthodox Jewish teen who must decide whether to marry her brother-in-law after her sister dies in childbirth, "Fill the Void" won its Oscar spot by sweeping the Ophir Awards, Israel's version of the Oscars. Its director is herself an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jew, and said she wanted to set her film inside the Orthodox community rather than showing that community's conflicts with the secular world.
Italy: "Caesar Must Die"
Director: Pablo Taviani and Vittorio Taviani
The controversial winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, the Tavianis' drama follows a prison troupe preparing for a performance of "Julius Caesar." Actual prisoners were used extensively in the film, which turns to black-and-white when the inmates leave the stage and return to their cells. At Cineuropa, Benedicte Prot called the film "a resounding hymn to the power of art."
Japan: "Our Homeland"
Director: Yang Yonghi
Working from her own family story, Yang Yonghi has followed her documentary "Dear Pyongyang" with a dramatic but emotionally restrained film about the divided loyalties of Korean nationals living in Japan. Her film centers on a man who has been living in North Korea for 25 years under a Korean repatriation program, but who is allowed to briefly return for medical treatment to Japan, and to a family that finds it difficult to reconnect with him.
Kazakhstan: "Myn Bala: Warriors of the Steppe"
Director: Akan Satayev
An historical epic that cost a reported $7 million in U.S. dollars, "Myn Bala" is set in the 18th Century, when the Kazakhs overthrew the Zunghar Khanate, who had ruled their land for around 100 years. The film was funded by the state, and made to mark the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence from the Soviet Union.
Kenya: "Nairobi Half Life"
Director: David "Tosh" Gitonga
The first-ever Kenyan entry is about a character who himself has his eye on show business. Joseph Wairimu plays a young man who moves to Nairobi in an attempt to become a successful actor – though he's tempted by the underworld, where it's easier to find a job.
Kyrgyzstan: "The Empty Home"
Director: Nurbek Egen
Another film that explores the gulf between country and city, "The Empty Home" follows a young woman who abandons her husband on their wedding night to run off to Moscow in order to abort the child (from another man) that her new husband doesn't know she's carrying. Egen previously directed "The Wedding Chest," the first film every submitted to the Oscars by Kyrgyzstan. (It did not make the shortlist.)
Latvia: "Gulf Stream Under the Iceberg"
Director: Yevgeny Pashkevich
Pashkevich's far-ranging film spans three centuries, telling love stories that are set in 1664 (filmed "in the style of Dutch painters," according to the film's website), 1883 ("in the style of a family album") and 1990 ("in the style of cinema verite"). The wildly ambitious film was inspired by the works of French author Anatole France, and focused on the character of the immortal but soul-less Lilith, "Adam's first wife."
Director: Audrius Stonys
A rare documentary entered in the foreign-language category, "Ramin" tells the story of Georgia wrestler Ramin Lomsadze, best-known for once winning seven matches in a total time of 55 seconds. Fittingly, the film itself is short: At 58 minutes, it is the briefest of the 71 Oscar submissions.
Macedonia: "The Third Half"
Director: Darko Mitrevksi
The source of controversy in the Balkans, Mitrevski's film centers on a soccer team coached by a Jewish coach in Nazi-occupied Macedonia during World War II, and on Macedonian Jews who were sent to the gas chambers in the Treblinka concentration camp. Bulgarian members of the European Parliament attacked the film (sight unseen) for its depiction of WWII Bulgarians as fascists, while the director calls those critics Holocaust deniers.
Director: Dain Iskandar Said
Action films don't often fare well in the category, but Malaysia has gone that route with "Bunohan," which screened in Toronto in 2011 and was subsequently picked up by Oscilloscope. The film deals with three estranged brothers – one a kickboxer, one an an assassin and one a businessman – who return to their hometown and, in the words of the film's Facebook page, "fight for their lives in a dark web of deceit, regret and murder."
Mexico: "After Lucia" ("Despues de Lucia")
Director: Michel Franco
A year after its acclaimed submission "Miss Bala" failed to make the shortlist, Mexico has submitted the story of a father and daughter struggling to recover from the death of their wife and mother. When the two move to a new town, the daughter becomes the subject of merciless bullying at her high school. Reportedly tough to watch at times, the film received positive reviews and won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section at this year's Cannes.
Morocco: "Death for Sale"
Director: Faouzi Bensaidi
A drama about three young friends who survive as petty criminals in northern Morocco, "Death for Sale" screened at Cannes in the Cinefondation section. Its director calls it "a dark, violent film with a thread of warped humor."
Director: Boudewijn Koole
Termed "an unpretentious kidpic" by Variety, "Kauwboy" is the narrative-feature debut of documentary director Koole. The story of a 10-year-old loner who finds and tries to raise a baby bird, the film won the prize for best first feature in Berlin.
Director: Epsen Sandberg and Joachim Ronning
A hit in its home country and in Toronto, Norway's most exensive production ever recreates the famous voyage across the Pacific taken by Thor Heyerdahl and crew in 1947. Reviewer Stephen Saito pointed out that this kind of "ripping yarn of globetrotting derring-do" has become a rarity, and added, "'Kon-Tiki' is just crazy enough to work."
Palestine: "When I Saw You"
Director: Annemarie Jacir
Set in Jordan in 1967, as Palestinian refugees flee to camps in the aftermath of war, "When I Saw You" gives its 11-year-old protagonist a choice between life in a refugee camp or with a group of armed rebels. IonCinema reviewer Nicholas Bell said the film was "a sweaty exercise in didacticism."
Peru: "The Bad Intentions"
Director: Rosario Garcia-Montero
Peru scored one of the most surprising nominations in recent years with the 2009 drama "The Milk of Sorrow" (which was widely rumored to have been the beneficiary of an executive committee "save"). Like that film, "The Bad Intentions" focuses on the vivid imagination of a young girl, in this case one who is sure she'll die on the day her brother is born. The film screened at the Berlin and Los Angeles Film Festivals in 2011.
Director: Jun Robles Lana
The story of an aging gay man and his dog, "Bwakaw" won three awards, including the audience award, at the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival. Slant's John Semley called it "entirely, effervescently original," and said "this oddball Filipino film effectively mints its own genre: the light dark comedy."
Poland: "80 Million" ("80 milionow")
Director: Waldemar Krzystek
Krzystek's film deals with his country's Solidarity movement by telling the story of five activists who withrew 80 million zloty from trade union accounts just before martial law was imposed in Poland in 1981. The money would fund much of Solidarity's activity in the ensuing years, before the organization came to power in 1989 elections.
Portugal: "Blood of My Blood" ("Sangue do Meu Sangue")
Director: Joao Canijo
Portugal's biggest box-office hit of 2011 is a family melodrama set in a slum on the outskirts of Lisbon. Robert Munro called it "an elegant and sensitively filmed drama which avoids the pitfalls of a grim portrayal of the working class to become a richly woven social tapestry of its time and place."
Romania: "Beyond the Hills"
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Mungiu's first feature since the famously Oscar-snubbed "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" was the only film in the main competition at Cannes to win more than one award: Mungiu was honored for his screenplay, and Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur for playing two teenaged girls, one of whom has just entered a convent. It has not received the unanimous raves that Mungiu's previous film did, but could still be the first film from the acclaimed resurgence of Romanian cinema to win Oscar attention.
Russia: "White Tiger" (Belyy tigr")
Director: Karen Shakhnazarov
Russia has a habit of submitting muscular action films in this category, though the country hasn't had much success cracking the nominees' roster in recent years. This World War II entry deals with a Red Army officer obsessed with destroying a White Tiger tank. Could it be "Moby Dick" with treads?
Serbia: "When Day Breaks" ("Kad svane dan")
Director: Goran Paskaljevic
One of many submissions that deal with the ghosts of World War II and the Holocaust, "When Day Breaks" is about a music professor who learns the truth about his parents when a metal box is found buried at the site of a former concentration camp. The film screened recently in Toronto, where reviewer Robert Bell found it "severe, deliberately paced" and overly dry.
Singapore: "Already Famous"
Director: Michelle Chong
Actress and television host Michelle Chong is better known in Singapore for her television work. She took a leave from those jobs to form her own production company and make this comedy, which also stars Taiwanese singer Alien Huang and deals with a girl who dreams of becoming a star.
Slovak Republic: "Made in Ash" ("Az do mesta As")
Director: Iveta Grofova
A grim Eastern European entry (year after year, there are lots of these), "Made in Ash" follows a young girl from a textile factory to the sex trade. Grofova occasionally switches to animation to convey her central character's thoughts and emotions.
Slovenia: "A Trip" ("Izlet")
Director: Nejc Gazvoda
A road movie about three high school friends heading to the seaside for the last time before two of them leave the country, Gazvoda's film was acclaimed as one of the pleasant surprises of the festival season. InContention's Guy Lodge called it "a boisterous European riff on 'Y tu Mama Tambien.'"
South Africa: "Little One"
Director: Darrell James Roodt
Eight years ago, director Roodt's film "Yesterday" earned an Oscar nomination; last year, he released the unsuccessful Winnie Mandela biopic "Winnie," with Jennifer Hudson in the lead role. He'll be hoping for a reaction more like the former for "Little One," the story of a six-year-old girl found nearly dead outside a township in Johannesburg. The South African selection committee called it "a poignant, moving, and minimalist narrative which is unapologetically South African" and "a universal story made local, with brilliant performances."
South Korea: "Pieta"
Director: Kim Ki-duk
A dark, violent and provocative melodrama about a vicious debt collector and the woman who claims to be his mother, "Pieta" won the Golden Lion award at Venice after the jury learned that it couldn't give "The Master" that award and also acting honors. But it received more mixed reviews in Toronto, and its hopes seem likely to rest on the executive committee agreeing with Venice jurors.
Director: Pablo Berger
Like "Snow White and the Huntsman" and "Mirror, Mirror," "Blancanieves" is a retelling of the Snow White story; like last year's Oscar-winner "The Artist," it's a silent film and an homage to the pre-sound era. In Contention's Guy Lodge compared it favorably to both of the Hollywood Snow White takes: "Though its meticulous pastiche of obsolete (or so we thought) cinematic form makes it seem more of an antique novelty than either of the other 2012 Snow Whites, 'Blancanieves' is actually the most overtly modernized of the bunch, updating the action to 1920s Spain, injecting wicked notes of media satire into the action and – most innovatively – stripping the tale of all its supernatural elements."
Sweden: "The Hypnotist"
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
With Best Director nominations for "My Life as a Dog" and "The Cider House Rules" and Best Picture noms for "Cider House" and "Chocolat," Hallstrom brings some serious Oscar pedigree to this category. "The Hypnotist" is a crime drama about a police inspector and a psychiatrist who team up to find a killer before he wipes out an entire family.
Switzerland: "Sister" ("L'Enfant d'En Haut")
Director: Ursula Meier
Meier explores social divides and class conflicts in her first film since "Home." The story of a 12-year-old boy who lives below a ski resort and supports himself and his sister by stealing valuables from the tourists, the film won the Silver Bear in Berlin and drew strong reviews at the L.A. Film Festival.
Taiwan: "Touch of the Light"
Director: Chang Jung-Chi
Blind Taiwanese pianist Huang Yu-hsiang is both the main character and the leading actor in this film, which recreates his journey from his home in the country to a university in Taipei. "The beauty of this film, and indeed of its main subject, can be found in the details – so many priceless moments – a gesture here, an unseen look from his mother, a fingertip lingering over a light switch," said a review on Radio Taiwan's English-language blog.
Director: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang
The one-line description sounds intriguing, if not exactly Academy-ready: "A cop-turned-hitman is struck in the head by a bullet and now sees the world upside down." The quote at the top of the poster ("stylish, badass neo-noir cinema") sounds equally intriguing, and even less Academy-friendly.
Turkey: "Where the Fire Burns"
Director: Ismail Gunes
The third of Gunes' films to focus on the issue of violence, "Where the Fire Burns" is a road movie that follows an unmarried, pregnant teen from a small Turkish village and the father who vows to take his daughter to a remote location and kill her for her transgression. Obstacles to his plan present themselves, while the director walks a line between allegory and character study. "Günes balances his broader brush strokes with a steady stream of small details in behaviour and comportment that instill his characters with sufficient nuance so as to run counter to their function as mere archetypes," wrote critic Jose Teodoro at the FIPRESCI website.
Ukraine: "The Firecrosser"
Director: Mykhailo Illienko
Another World War II story, this Ukranian hit tells the strange but true story of a Soviet pilot who was taken prisoner by the Germans, then sent to a Soviet Gulag after the war because he'd been captured. After his release from the Gulag, the man traveled to Canada and somehow wound up as the chief of a tribe of Native Americans.
Uruguay: "The Delay"
Director: Rodrigo Pla
The last few years have seen a number of foreign-language Oscar entries dealing with the problems of caring for aging parents, though none have landed nominations. (If you want to reduce Michael Haneke's "Amour" to that theme, which would be a touch misleading, it will almost certainly end the streak.) "The Delay" is about a woman who lives with three children and her 80-year-old father, and who abandons her father on a bench before having a change of heart. "[T]his slow-paced, claustrophobic nightmare is strong on mood and ambience but is let down by some questionable screenplay developments in the second half," wrote Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter.
Venezuela: "Rock, Paper, Scissors" ("Piedra, Papel o Tijera")
Director: Hernan Jabes
Twitchfilm's Todd Brown found more than a touch of "Babel" and "Biutiful" director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu in this urban drama with intersecting story lines. The head of Venezula's selection committee called it "a searing portrait of Venezuela today."
Vietnam: "The Scent of Burning Grass" ("Mui co chay")
Director: Nguyen Huu Muoi
Adapted from memoirs and diaries of war veterans by screenwriter Hoang Nhuan Cam, himself a veteran, "The Scent of Burning Grass" is set in the embattled Quang Tri province during the war-torn summer of 1972. It recently won four awards, including best picture, plus a special government citation, at the Viet Nam Cinema Association's Golden Kite Awards.