The LAMB Devours the Oscars – Best Foreign Language Film

by Dylan · February 12, 2008 · LAMB Devours the Oscars · 14 Comments

Editor’s note: Welcome to the eleventh of a multi-part series dissecting the 2008 Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every weekday leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category (or more) of the Oscars (there are 24 in all). To read any other posts regarding this event, please just click on the tag following the post. Thank you, and enjoy!

By DJ Heinlein of Matte Havoc.

In collaboration with my fellow LAMBs I have been assigned a special Oscars themed category in which I will be basing this entire article upon. I have been assigned to review the list of 2008 Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Language film. The task may be interesting and challenging since none of the nominees have been released into the theaters of mainstream America. I think I am up for the challenge.

I admit that I enjoy watching foreign films, because they can be a huge breath of fresh air. When shrouded within a room that plays the same American story lines repetitively the mental stimulation becomes clouded and the air in the room grows stale. I want something fresh, new, and mentally invigorating. That is when the outside world, also known as the foreign film market, can throw my mind for a loop. What concerns me is that the nominations for the 2008 Academy Awards list five different films in the Foreign Language category that I have not seen yet. The main reason for this would be that they are currently not playing at the local art houses. And if the titles ever have been listed on the marques of the theater I was too slow to have noticed their initial run. However, here are the list of nominations and a brief synopsis of each one alongside some of my own notable commentary.

Movie poster for 'Beaufort' (Israel, 2007)TITLE: Beaufort (2007).
COUNTRY: Israel.
LANGUAGE: Hebrew.
[ View Trailer ]
SYNOPSIS: In 2000 the Israel Defense Forces are withdrawing from southern Lebanon. The military group has been a strong presence in the particular area of Lebanon for about eighteen years, and are suddenly packing up and starting to leave the territory. As the military forces are preparing for their change of location the story centers upon a small group of soldiers who lives their lives in the trenches of war and have to face the psychological and physical torments of war. The film’s story was adapted from the book with the same name that was written by Ron Leshem. According to a comment from the director he was influenced to create the film’s visual design from such notable classics as Das Boot (1981) and Paths of Glory (1957).
COMMENTARY: This film I could only imagine should strike a patriotic nerve among the Israeli citizens. The point that concerns me would be my hope to see something different. As I had alluded to in my opening statement it is wonderful to watch a foreign film to view a story that is different from the American films that I could see on any given weekend. At the core of the plot for Beaufort lies the same concept that I would see in any other war film that would be created by an American production house. However, I do believe there is the glimmer of hope that this film offers a new perspective to the American viewer. With the headlines that we read in the American papers about a war in the Middle East it may be a subject matter that feels so distant to some of us. Not every American citizen has a relative who is involved in the military. Not every American has taken a step outside of our country’s borders. But to the citizens of Israel it is a call of duty and an act of honor to serve in their country’s military. They can understand what it means to protect their home turf. This film should offer a unique perspective about the battles that occur in Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East and northeastern Africa. I look forward to watching this film to find out what makes interesting enough to be nominated for an Oscar.

Movie poster for 'The Counterfeiters' (Austria, 2007)TITLE: The Counterfeiters [a.k.a. Die Fälscher] (2007).
COUNTRY: Austria.
LANGUAGE: German.
[ View Trailer ]
SYNOPSIS: Based upon the memoirs of Adolf Burger the film’s story is about the largest counterfeiting operation in history. The character of Salomon Sorowitsch is the fictional counterpart for Burger’s real life persona. Saloman is a professional counterfeiter who lives with the sleazy underworld of alcohol and women in Berlin, Germany during the peak era of the Nazi regime. He is thrown into a concentration camp by a Nazi superintended who later shifts him and a few other counterfeiters into a special collections group to produce counterfeit foreign currency for the Germany government. The group’s illegal practice became known as Operation Berhard.
COMMENTARY: Honestly, I wonder how far from the tree this film lies from other class war camp films such as The Great Escape (1963) or Schindler’s List (1993). Don’t get me wrong here, because The Counterfeiters sounds like a promising film that I will definitely want to check out later on when I have access to watching it. Usually dramatic narratives of true events perform very well at the Oscar ceremonies. There have been several nominations and award winners that have been based upon memoirs or historical events. I can’t quite place my betting money on this film, because the topic may be a little over done. How many World War II films are really vying for the Oscar nod and will establish a guarantee win? This film does have its sentimental drawing power, and I’m looking forward to see if this will be the deciding factor for the big night.

Movie poster for 'Katyn' (Poland, 2007)TITLE: Katyn (2007).
COUNTRY: Poland.
LANGUAGE: Polish.
[ View Trailer ]
SYNOPSIS: The Katyn massacre, also the Katyn Forest massacre, was a mass execution of Polish citizens ordered by Soviet authorities in 1940.Estimates of the number of dead range from 15,000 to 21,768. The victims were murdered in Katyn forest, Kalinin (Tver) and Kharkiv prisons and elsewhere. About 8,000 were officers taken prisoner during the 1939 invasion of Poland, the rest being Poles arrested for allegedly being “intelligence agents, gendarmes, spies, saboteurs, landowners, factory owners, lawyers, priests, and officials.” (Borrowed on compliments of the Wikipedia entry for Katyn massacre.) The film Katyn is based upon the events that I’ve just described above that occurred during the time of World War II. The Soviets were the people responsible for the death for the thousands of bodies that were discovered by Nazi Germany in 1943.
COMMENTARY: Hmm, interesting! It’s another foreign war film. I wonder what’s on the mind of several countries throughout the world. This marks the third consecutive title out of the five films that I’m rolling through right now that deals with this heavy topic. There is a debate among a few people about the historical value of the film. Is it accurate? Will it reflect poorly upon the Poles, the Russians, or any other involved political group? The Katyn Massacre was one of many sad stories about the mass executions during the war. I had already mentioned about the correlation with the Oscar award winning film Schindler’s List which is another sad story about the war. I would consider this film has a strong possibility of winning the Oscar this year. Just don’t hold me to it if the film doesn’t win.

Movie poster for 'Mongol' (Kazakhstan, 2007)TITLE: Mongol (2007).
COUNTRY: Kazakhstan.
LANGUAGE: Mongolian.
[ View Trailer ]
SYNOPSIS: In the early 13th century a warrior was building his career to create an empire in which he was its ruler. The warrior’s name was Genghis Khan. The film’s story begins in 1172 with Khan as a child who suffers through the torments of slavery As he grows older he gains notoriety among his peers as he forms the early part of his career. By 1206 the nomadic clans of central Asia join together under his leadership to begin the quest for world domination. This film marks the first installment of a planned trilogy of the career of Genghis Khan.
COMMENTARY: Did you know that the several people over in Kazakhstan have stated their gratitude for Sacha Baron Cohen’s satirical character Borat? It’s true! It was mentioned that if it wasn’t for Borat then the country could have been overlooked by the Academy when the group was reviewing the submissions for the Best Foreign Film category. The comedic character has put the country on the map (in terms of recognition, of course). However, in regards to this film I think that it may be accepted by the American public for the way that it could be marketed to us. It appears to be a film about Mongolian people and the empirical world of Genghis Khan. It is now officially listed as an Oscar nominated film, which in its own right is a huge drawing power for people to grab the DVD off the rental shelf at Blockbuster. There may be a chance that a few viewers will want to watch this film because they heard it was produced by the country who is associated with Borat, but will it be a surprise to the viewer that this would be the only connection that the film and the character would have with each other? I believe the odds of this film winning the Oscar award are slim, but that shouldn’t hinder its chances of a worldwide audience.

Movie poster for '12' (Russia, 2007)TITLE: 12 [a.k.a. 12 razgnevannyh muzhchin] (2007).
COUNTRY: Russia.
LANGUAGE: Russian.
[ View Video Clip ]
SYNOPSIS: A modern Russian remake of the American classic 12 Angry Men (1957) the movie takes place in the republic of Chechnya where twelve jurors must decide the fate of a Chechen teenager who has been placed on trial with the charges of killing his Russian stepfather. Among the twelve jurors include a list of wide range of Russian citizens such as a racist taxi-driver, a suspicious doctor, a vacillating TV producer, a Holocaust survivor, a flamboyant musician, a cemetery manager, and several others.
COMMENTARY: There are several opinions floating around about this film. One of those opinions, which I agree with, is the question of how a remake was able to receive an Oscar Nomination? But then again I must broaden my viewpoint to think that the American film producers have a laundry list of categories in which they could submit just one single title. Those same American businessmen are probably being wise by not putting all their eggs in one basket, if you know what I mean. As for the foreign film producers who only have one category in which they could submit their film I would like to think that it is a very rough competition to gain any recognition for it. Imagine a world of over 200 recognized countries and a large number of them may have the available resources to create a feature film. If all those countries were allowed to submit only one film title to one award category and compete with a couple of hundred other countries then the possibilities of getting one of the five nomination slots could be rather rough. I would have to say that the country of Russia had considered this film their best representative film for the year.

Now what makes this year interesting, as if things should really be any different, is that four out of the five nominees deal with the subject of war and fighting. There’s two films about World War II, one film about the modern day civil unrest of the war torn area of the Middle East, and another film about the battle for world domination. Only one film differs from the rest of the group in terms of war related content, but it doesn’t stray too far from the realm of civil unrest when it focuses upon the trial of a murder case. Considering the topics in which the films have focused upon and the history of Oscar winners, I have come to a decision with placing my bet for this year’s winner. My vote will be cast for Israel’s submission Beaufort. Modern day war movies have proven to be the latest trend in the genre of war time dramas. Regardless of my vote, I would hope that the best candidate will win.

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14 Responses to The LAMB Devours the Oscars – Best Foreign Language Film

  1. Jess says:

    Great summary! Thanks for putting so much into it. I never predict the foreign film correctly anyway, but I like your logic.

  2. Marilyn says:

    Wow. I go to film festivals a lot and I haven’t seen even one of these films. What was the Academy thinking? (Well, probably nothing since 4,3,2 isn’t among the nominees.)

    I think you might be right, though the Academy has a history of liking Holocaust movies and The Counterfeiters trailer is already showing in theatres.

    Would it kill them to pick a comedy once in a while?

    Nice job with a really tough assignment!

  3. I am most impressed! I love foreign movies, as long as they are Asian, but now I want to watch these movies. Mongol seems really interesting. There’s a character Hollywood forgot. My ancestors came from Mongolia on my mother’s side, and Ghengis Khan has always seemed an interesting character. I will definitively look for that.

  4. JG says:

    It’s hard for me to take the foreign language race seriously this year after Zwartboek (which I like to think of as Paul Verhoeven’s thematic prequel to Starship Troopers) didn’t even get nominated.

  5. Fletch says:

    @ soundtrack geek – “I love foreign movies, as long as they are Asian”

    Eek – what a terrible statement! You write off all other foreign films?!?

    Then again, being a Norwegian expat living in the UK, I’m not quite sure what you might consider to be foreign. 😉 Do you consider American films foreign? (I’m only half-joking.)

    @ Marilyn – don’t feel bad. I don’t think many Stateside (myself included) had heard of a single one prior to the nominations. So many were excluded and/or included in other categories, and the Academy’s rules for this category are apparently pretty screwy (chief among them: each country can submit but one film).

    @ jg – I hear you, as I feel the same way about Paris, Je t’aime. However, both of them were released (at least internationally) in 2006, which I believe makes them ineligible this year. Someone correct me if I’m wrong…

    Great write-up, DJ!

  6. Daniel G. says:

    Great work here, and helpful since, for the first time in years, I’ve not seen any of the FLF nominees, like you. I think the snub of 4 Months… will haunt this category for some time. It was a travesty that it didn’t even make the short list, let alone get nominated. Black Book, as you mention, jg, was also supposed to be great. Diving Bell and Persepolis could have been deservedly included as well.

  7. Pat says:

    Great job with a difficult category.

    I agree that the exclusion of “4 Months…” was a travesty. I believe that “Diving Bell” was ineligible due to the fact that its director is American. I would like to have seen “La Vie En Rose” among the nominees myself, but I recall it was ineligible as well, don’t remember why.

    I have seen a trailer for “The Counterfeitors,” but the rest of these films are completely unknown to me. I have no idea what I’d predict as the winner.

  8. Nick says:

    I *love* 12 Angry Men (both versions equally… it was remade with Jack Lemmon for those who don’t know). So my vote is going for 12.

    However, I was disappointed when I found out that El Orfanato didn’t make the final list. It was such a great movie. I think everybody is in agreement that they screwed up with the foreign choices this year.

    soundtrackgeek: I have to agree with Fletch on this one… I kinda shook my head when you said ‘as long as they’re Asian’. Asian movies rock, but there’s so much more out there.

    Oh yeah… and nice article, by the way! 😛

  9. * (asterisk) says:

    Interesting article. Thanks. Not seen any of the nommed films, but will likely try to catch them all at some point.

    I’m surprised, like others here, at some of the omissions: 4,3,2 and The Orphanage, and possibly Black Book, depending on the criteria. (I think it’s to do with US opening dates, though I may be wrong.)

    But I figure the Academy will go Israel. They seem to like to if they can…

  10. I’ve got to add my voice to the clamor…

    I also never heard of any of these (though they are definitely on my want-to-sees). I don’t get what was up with the exclusion of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, as it was so widely honored. Persepolis could have gotten some Academy love, too. I remember I was bummed when I heard about Diving Bell‘s ineligibility, as I believe that was one of the best movies of 2007.

  11. soundtrackgeek says:

    Nick & Fletch: yep, but that’s because I haven’t seen any other foreign movies other than Asian ones, not that I can remember anyway, unless you consider Borat a foreign movie 😉

    On the other hand, I consider British and Norwegian movies “foreign” and I do love Norwegian movies, so I guess I have to add that to the statement. I’ve seen a few British movies too which are great.

  12. Jed says:

    A lot of the great foriegn movies of last year were missing on the list- esp Romania’s 4,3,2, Fatih Akin’s Edge of Heaven and yes, Paul’s Black Book.

    4,3,2 won at Cannes, beating Old Men…that’s something people need to know.

  13. DJ Heinlein says:

    Thanks all for your nice comments. I do agree that I am bummed about the lack of appearance of Persepolis from the list. Despite the fact that the film was submitted for this category it was not admitted accordingly. The interesting part is that it’s nomination was shuffled over to the Best Animation category, and I could only assume that was because of the lack of contenders. After all Persepolis has to fight with two other animated films for the win and I don’t think either of them were Oscar worth. Can you really imagine Surf’s Up or Ratatouille winning an Oscar award?

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