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International Oscar Contenders Explore Forbidden Passion, Finding Hope, Love Between Human and Robot, and a Bad Boss (Video)

TheWrap Screening Series: ”If you forbid love, you forbid life,“ says Sebastian Meise of ”Great Freedom,“ which explores the imprisonment of homosexuals in postwar Germany

The topics of their films are wide-ranging — but four directors whose movies have made the shortlist for Academy Award consideration for International Feature Film all described their movies as tales of challenging the obstacles to forming essential human connections. Of a total of 92 eligible films, 15 made the final short list.

Four of those 15 finalists joined TheWrap’s Steve Pond for a discussion about the inspiration behind their movies. The list includes Sebastian Meise, director of Austrian entry “Great Freedom;” Blerta Basholli (“Hive,” Kosovo); Fernando León de Aranoa (“The Good Boss,” Spain) and Maria Schrader, (“I’m Your Man,” Germany). All four directors also served as writer or co-writer of their movies, and have very personal connections with the stories on screen.

Meise’s “Great Freedom” tells the story of Hans (Franz Rogowski) who is repeatedly imprisoned over decades for being a homosexual. Despite the odds, he establishes a loving relationship with his longtime cell mate, Viktor, a convicted murderer.

Meise said the story was inspired by stumbling upon historical information about Germany’s Paragraph 175, a provision of a criminal code that criminalized all homosexual acts between men for decades. “We wanted to cover the whole postwar era until the paragraph was amended in 1969,” Meise said. “We conducted a series of interviews with people who were imprisoned again and again and again, and were unable to have a normal life. Because if you forbid love, I mean, your life is forbidden, basically.”

Schrader’s “I’m Your Man” looks at a different sort of obstacle to a meaningful relationship: One of the partners is not human. A scientist at a museum in Berlin is persuaded to participate in a study to get funding for her research. For three weeks, she must live with a humanoid robot designed to be the perfect life partner for her (portrayed by Dan Stevens). “That is a very interesting question to be answered by all of us — why is it really that we only can share love with humans and what is it exactly what makes us human?” Schrader said.

Basholli’s “Hive” is based on the real-life story of a war widow who spearheads a group of similarly struggling widows who start a business to sell local honey. Through their bond, they find healing, but must fight cultural bias against women living and working independently. “When I met her, she really felt like the hero to me like a superhero, but like a real human-being hero,” Basholli said. “And when I asked her, did you cry — because it felt a little bit unbelievable for me for her to overcome everything — she was like yes, I cried every day. And then I wiped my tears and went to work.”

The title character of León de Aranoa’s “The Good Boss” (portrayed by Javier Bardem) is really a bad boss, one whose work relationships go out of control when he becomes obsessed with winning a business award for the company, which he calls his family. “I liked the idea of this good boss, going too far into the personal lives of the people that work for him, trying to fix their personal lives,” León de Aranoa said. “He will cross every single line he needs to in order to get what he wants.”

To watch the complete video panel, click here.