The Problems of Limiting Foreign Film Submissions (Part 2 of 2)

Similar to the first installment of this piece there was one nation where I got a more rounded, abundant reaction. However, I still didn’t have near the sample size as I did with Brazil. Therefore, I wanted to test the waters and get samples from around the world about the foreign film submissions from my Twitter friends’ respective countries. Even with fewer reactions, and fewer characters with which to glean and convey information, I still got some interesting insights that furthers my hypothesis that limiting a nation to one film submission to the Oscars for consideration can cause issues. Some of these reactions point to aforementioned stumbling blocks, some are new. As is the case with Brazil’s selection, I have not had the chance to see the films that have been submitted on behalf of the nations listed below. I will attempt to see as many of them as I can. Also, I realize that some of these opinions may venture into more perception than reality, but that’s kind of the point. There is a threshold where perception becomes reality and behind every cynicism is some truth, so these opinions do highlight flaws in the system.

Sweden

Sweden’s is a case I alluded to in my prior commentary and review about Simon and the Oaks, so I was glad to get the kind of feedback I did there. Sweden’s official selection is The Hypnotist by Lasse Hallström. The general reaction I got from the handful of people who ended up commenting was that it was a weak choice. In fact, the notion I had in mind when formulating the “reputation of the director” question was echoed here. What prompted me to write that question was the conventional wisdom of ‘Oh, well, so-and-so directed it so it has to be selected.” The reactions to the the film itself were mixed to negative, as was the perception of its choice, and chances of making a dent on the nominees list. I also saw in this selection a reflection of a common theme with a award shows in the US, wherein the film was submitted to the Academy but hadn’t premiered, which is not dissimilar from press screenings of late-December releases that are up for awards before a vast majority of moviegoers have gotten a chance to see it. If these comments are any indication, I wouldn’t be surprised to see either Brazil or Sweden missing out on the shortlist. More tellingly they seem to play out scenarios and ill-feelings that would be alleviated by additional selections.

Canada

Canada, and the next section, are in this list for a few reasons. So far as Canada goes, I have a lot of Twitter contacts there, and it’s important to note that none I asked had seen War Witch at the time I asked. Quite a few heard of it and wanted to, some went on to learn of its fairly impressive festival run to date. So again you have, at least based on a small sampling, an underseen film, which would benefit from Oscar attention. I don’t necessarily think that it represents a language barrier (That is, however, a selection concern for many nations where multiple languages and/or dialects are spoken), as the film was only playing in Vancouver when I asked.

Chile

The difference between the answers I got from two contacts in Chile and the myriad I have in Canada is that the Chileans were both well aware of No, it has been well-received and they intended on seeing it.

France

When asking a contact in France I got very interesting and honest feedback regarding The Intouchables, which I missed over the summer. He believed it a worthy selection for many reasons, but also added that it was “the most Weinsteinable,” which, of course, refers to the Weinstein Company who are not only Award forces but purveyors of ‘gateway’ foreign film selections.

Conclusion

Lastly, I asked a huge foreign film watcher my question. The answer was qualified by not having seen sufficient titles from any country to make definitive statements, but he did cite both France and Denmark as countries that had stronger films in his estimation that could’ve been submitted. In the end, the point of this exercise is not to definitively approve or condemn a film selection. It has been to gather information from those who have seen said film(s) and are familiar with the machinations of their nation’s film industry. In doing so I hoped and think I have illustrated that there are issues with the system at current that would be alleviated by allowing for additional submissions. If you were to introvert the Oscar screening process, that is to say, were I to only stick to Oscar nominees I never would’ve discovered Le Grand chemin, and if it wasn’t self-evident by now, my personal awards (The BAM Awards) do not have a limiter. However, as I’ve stated with many synonyms this plan is an interesting academic exercise, somewhat impractical, and unlikely to be implemented in any way shape or form. Therefore, what can we take from all this? If nothing else, it’s that whether there’s a cinema that we’re close to personally, either through relations or by aesthetic appreciation, we should try to get to know it more fully. Rather than just debating and griping about the film it submits to the Oscars, have another immediately in mind, or better yet know and appreciate that cinema well enough to not care what the submission is, but just think of that as a bonus. Should the country you call home, home away from home, or whose films you enjoy gets nominated; that’s great. If it does not, you can still watch all its other great films.

Thankful For World Cinema: Simon and the Oaks

The Foreign Award Struggle

I touched upon this a while back when writing about Spud, and that is the marketing of films from around the world hits a pothole when trying to cite foreign film awards that American viewers as a whole are not familiar with. Invariably a national film award, whether it be from South Africa, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, or almost anywhere else (Those are just the nations I recall seeing with this distinction), will have their award name cited and then in parenthesis it will say “The Swedish Oscar,” or whatever the country it would happen to be.

I’ve been in theaters where this connotation has gotten a chuckle and I find that to be a very narrow-minded thing to do. I will grant that some national cinemas are just more prolific than others so some of these national awards may have more clout than others, but the fact remains that when I see films that have virtual sweeps in terms of nominations, and then you pair that with the fact that it wasn’t even the film submitted to the Oscars from a given country, that will make me take notice.

Which brings me to Simon and the Oaks. When I was last in New York, I was about to see Robot & Frank at the Paris Theater and I saw a synopsis. It seemed quite intriguing. The Paris being an independent theater usually only screens trailers for what they’ll soon be showing, and, sure enough, a trailer for Simon and the Oaks came on. The trailer made the film seem even more interesting than the synopsis did and what really stuck with me was that it was nominated for 13 Guldbagge Awards, the Swedish national film award (let’s avoid the O-word for propriety’s sake).

As I alluded to earlier, that’s nothing to sneeze at especially coming out of Sweden. Now, I won’t completely play the naive neophyte, I’m sure if you were to talk to connoisseurs of specific national cinemas they’d tell you that their awards have their tendencies and trends just like ours, but as I said I had already been sold on the film the awards were an additional curiosity. Then add the fact that it had been passed over as Sweden’s Official selection in favor of Lasse Hallström’s latest and I was further intrigued. Adding to the equation was the fact that it was picked up by the Film Arcade. I always am supportive of new players entering the distribution game, and their other acquisition thus far is The Other Dream Team, a doc about the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic Basketball Team, which also seems interesting.

Simon and the Oaks

So, external factors aside, how is Simon and the Oaks? It is very good and engaging indeed. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the film is the changes to the expected path it gives you. It sets itself up as an outsider’s, observer’s tale that as its child protagonist grows becomes more the focus and more central to the thematic conflicts than we were led to believe at the beginning of the film.

It further surprises by setting up well-crafted, well-written situations about World War II that while not all that unique are captivating. Then about midway through there’s a crucial revelation that really sends the structure of the film for a loop in a good way and subjugates the external struggles and factors, and makes the tale a far more internal one than was ever expected. The performances are strong through the whole cast.

Not only that but there are very interesting mirrored family dynamics that intertwine. The only real uneasy patch is right after the temporal shift, but things still sort themselves out. The film moves well enough such that it could’ve taken a bit more time to transition, but this is truly a minor quibble.

I’m a big stickler for the moment in which a film decides to end its narrative, and this film selects the perfect moment and does so with perfect symmetry and poetry. It’s a film that does well to underscore the fact that there are many films out in the global market that can find an audience in the states, and I’m glad to have gotten to see this one.