With fewer than a dozen countries submitting their entries so far, the 2016 Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film has a clear frontrunner, with Germany’s selection of Maren Ade’s Cannes Film Festival hit “Toni Erdmann.”
The film, which will be released in the U.S. by Sony Pictures Classics, won raves in Cannes for director Ade’s deft blend of comedy in drama as she tells the story of a free-spirited man who disrupts his corporate-minded daughter’s life.
Among the other films that have become their country’s official selection in the early going are “Sieranevada,” the Romanian Cannes drama from director Cristi Puiu; Switzerland’s “My Life as a Courgette,” an animated coming-of-age story from Claude Barras; and “Tanna,” an Australian drama set on a remote island and acted entirely by non-professionals.
Saudi Arabia has also entered the race for only the second time in history, selecting Mahmoud Sabbagh’s film “Barakah Meets Barakah.” The country previously entered Haifaa Al Mansour’s “Wadjda,” which was well received but did not make the shortlist in 2013.
To compete in the Oscar foreign-language race, a film must be submitted to the Academy by an AMPAS-accredited board in its country of origin. Each country is restricted to a single submission, though the manner of choosing can differ from one country to another.
Last year, 80 countries competed for the award, which was won by Hungary’s “Son of Saul.”
TheWrap will continue to update this list as new films are submitted.
Here are the submissions so far:
Directors: Bentley Dean and Martin Butler
Named for an island east of Australia, “Tanna” was shot entirely with non-professional, illiterate actors who workshopped and improvised their dialogue. The plot is based on a song which itself told the true story of two lovers who defied the custom of arranged marriages on the island.
The film won the audience award at last year’s Venice Film Festival. Lightyear Entertainment will release it in New York on September 16 and Los Angeles and elsewhere on September 23.
“On the Other Side”
Director: Zrinko Ogresta
Like many Oscar entries from Balkan countries in recent years, “On the Other Side” deals with echoes of the war in Bosnia in the 1990s. Its central character is a middle-aged woman whose daily routines are broken by a phone call from her long-estranged but never-divorced husband, a war criminal she hasn’t seen in decades. Ogresta is a restrained filmmaker who has won praise for the subtlety with which he tells his unsettling story.
Croatian trailer (no subtitles).
“The Companion” (“El acompañante”)
Director: Pavel Giroud
In the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, Cuba sent all its HIV-positive patients to a sanitarium where each was assigned a “companion” who would report back to the government. That true story is the basis for Giroud’s film, which focuses on a patient and the disgraced former boxer who is assigned to be his companion. The film spends part of its time with the patient’s travails, part with the boxer’s attempted comeback.
Trailer (subtitles available in menu).
“House of Others”
Director: Rusudan Glurjidze
First-time director Glurjidze sets her drama in the aftermath of war in the 1990s, as a family relocates to a small, remote village. The film screened in competition at this year’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival, where it won raves for its cinematography and its haunted air of guilt and unease amidst the scars of war.
“Toni Erdmann”Director: Maren Ade
Despite being shut out by the Cannes jury, “Toni Erdmann” won the biggest raves of this year’s festival and is the kind of crowd-pleasing film almost guaranteed to score well with Academy voters. After its Cannes premiere, TheWrap wrote, “The most delightful surprise of the festival so far, German director Ade has made a generous, hysterically funny but deeply touching father-daughter story that lasts for two hours and 42 minutes but doesn’t waste a moment and doesn’t feel anywhere near that long.”
Director: Cristi Puiu
Puiu (“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”) is one of the leaders of the Romanian new wave, which is beloved by arthouse aficionados but not typically embraced by the Academy. This film, which premiered in competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, focuses on a middle-aged man attending a family memorial; two hours and 53 minutes long, with most of its running time taking place in a small, crowded and claustrophobic house, it is bold but agonizingly slow portrait of a family and society ripped apart by the mistrust that comes from a violent and perilous history.
“Barakah Meets Barakah”
Director: Mahmoud Sabbagh
A romantic comedy that takes place in a setting where romance (and sometimes, comedy) has to stay undercover, “Barakah Meets Barakah” is only the second Oscar entry for Saudi Arabia. The crowd-pleasing film stars Hisham Fageeh and Fatima Al Banawi as a young man and woman who must fight cultural barriers just to have a first date.
“My Life as a Courgette”
Director: Claude Barras
Stop-motion animation is used to add a whimsical touch to a story that would otherwise be grim: the life in a foster home of a nine-year-old boy who accidentally caused the death of his mother. The film is the first feature for its director, and a rare animated entry in the Oscar foreign-language race.
Trailer (no subtitles).
“From Afar” (“Desde alla”)
Director: Lorenzo Vigas
First-time director Vigas’ drama about the relationship between a middle-aged man and the young man he initially approaches for sex was made with the help of a number of high-profile filmmakers, including writer Guillermo Arriaga, producer Michel Franco and executive producer Edgar Ramirez. The understated character study made its debut in competition at the Venice Film Festival last year.