With films in languages other than English finally breaking out of their limiting, designated category at the Academy Awards in the last few years, it’s outrageous that actors in those stories rarely obtain similar recognition.
Despite “Parasite” winning multiple Oscars, including Best Picture, the cast was left out of the acting categories — even lead Song Kang-ho, whose performance is pivotal to the film’s success. Last year, Danish star Mads Mikkelsen was also overlooked, while “Another Round” won the award for Best International Feature Film and Thomas Vinterberg was nominated for Best Director. This season, several stars from abroad could enrich the lineup of contenders.
Another glaring oversight is that none of the riveting performances in Iranian master Asghar Farhadi’s two Oscar-winning films, “A Separation” and “The Salesman,” received accolades stateside. Yet there’s a chance for redemption this year with his latest drama, “A Hero,” which features believably imperfect characters caught up in morally ambiguous circumstances.
As Rahim, a humble family man serving a sentence in prison when he’s thrust into the public eye as a role model for the citizenry to admire, actor Amir Jadidi trades in earnestness. Although shrouded by external suspicion about an incredibly selfless deed, his Rahim offers timidly dopey smiles and, in the early days of his local fame, acts in a bashfully gleeful manner when people recognize him.
But Farhadi don’t sanitize his image, and so Jadidi’s construction of this embattled individual slowly reveals an undercurrent of impotence, of a man who’s tried to accept his position in the social ladder and still can’t catch a break. Whether or not one fully trusts his account of the events, the progressive erosion of his restraint is at once captivating and heart-wrenching.
In “Drive My Car,” director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s meditative triumph that has already amassed top critics’ prizes, star Hidetoshi Nishijima embodies a different type of man in a slow-building crisis. For the role of Yûsuke Kafuku, a successful actor and theater director mourning a profound personal loss, Nishijima maintains a cerebral, nearly impenetrable demeanor amid inner turmoil. Haunted by his unfruitful pursuit of answers from his unfaithful wife, Kafuku casts and rehearses a multi-language version of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” as a form of escape.
Through Nishijima’s effectively stoic portrayal of a grief-stricken person unwilling to confront what he’s feeling head on, the protagonist’s interactions with others carry a certain distant quality even when in close proximity. However, in the presence of his imposed personal driver, Misaki (Tôko Miura), with whom he establishes a bond, that hardened outer shell melts ever so slightly.
Nishijima rides the deceptively subtle but piercing waves of emotion with a dignified vulnerability. Kafuku’s accumulated pain never manifests in overdramatic outbursts, and yet, as subterranean as it is, there’s an unspoken heaviness to him we can perceive.
Meanwhile, Norwegian actor Anders Danielsen Lie delivers yet another devastating turn in Joachim Trier’s romantic dramedy “The Worst Person in the World” — though his is a supporting part based on the amount of time he spends on screen. The director’s longtime muse, Danielsen Lie has now starred in all three films in Trier’s Oslo trilogy, including “Reprise” (2006) and “Oslo, August 31st” (2011).
In this final chapter, Danielsen Lie plays Aksel, a controversial comic-book artist and seemingly understanding partner to Julie (Renate Reinsve), the film’s alluring and ambivalent lead. When the turning point in their lives catches him by surprise, the actor calibrates the character’s desperation and anger as he attempts to salvage their relationship.
In a scene late in the narrative as the two sit across from each other to reminisce and confront their relationship’s inevitable fate, Aksel appears at his most unshielded — and Danielsen Lie delivers his most affecting moments. Impossible to pinpoint in simple terms, the character contains both problematic traits and an openness to engage with the hard truths about love.