Next week, the academy will unveil the nine films still in the running for the Best Foreign-Language Film at the Oscars. Over the last two months a screening committee, divided into groups, has been watching the 81 submissions and rating each from 6 to 10. Those ratings will determine a top six which will make up two-thirds of the shortlist. The other three films will be hand-selected by a 20-member executive committee. The five Oscar nominees will be determined by another committee who will screen the nine semi-finalists in early January.
In November we profiled the 10 films we consider likeliest to appeal to the committee. Three of the Golden Globe nominees — "The Club" (Chile); "Mustang" (France) and "Son of Saul" (Hungary) — number among these. Could the other two Globe contenders — "The Brand New Testament" (Belgium) and "The Fencer" (Finland) — make the cut with the academy? After seeing the films this week, that answer should be “yes.”
Below, our take on each of these brilliant films in terms of the Oscars, as well as our previous analysis of the other three Globe nominees.
“The Brand New Testament” (Belgium)
Though Belgium has never won the award despite seven bids, including in 2011 (“Bullhead”) and 2013 (“The Broken Circle Breakdown”). Considered by its director, Jaco Van Dormael to be “a comedy that mixes laughs, emotion and poetry,” “The Brand New Testament” brings levity to a race often bogged down by serious material taken very seriously. Its excellent ensemble cast, including screen legend and Oscar nominee Catherine Deneuve, a fantastic script and gorgeous cinematography are reason enough for the committee to find a space for it on the shortlist.
“The Fencer” (Finland)
Finland has only contended once ("The Man Without a Past” in 2002) but deserves to be back with “The Fencer,” an endearing and hopeful film about an Estonian fencer and newly established sports instructor at a local school set against the backdrop of Eastern European politics during the Second World War. This marks director Klaus Härö’s fourth film to be entered by Finland. An adorable cast of children is led by Estonian actor Märt Avandi who holds you in captivity for the film’s pleasantly short, but efficient runtime.
The Club” (Chile)
“The Club” won the Jury Grand Prix in Berlin and arrives on the heels of 2012’s outstanding “No,” also directed by Pablo Larrain. That was Chile’s first (and only) nomination in the category.
Never underestimate France: they are the most nominated country in category history (39) and second to Italy in wins (12). While many assumed it would submit Palme d’Or winning “Dheepan,” France entered this coming of age story about five girls in a remote Turkish village. It’s up for two prizes at the European Film Awards, including Best European Film.
“Son of Saul” (Hungary)
In a field this infamous for being unpredictable, it’s hard to ever call a hopeful a “lock for a nomination,” but most years don’t include a film like “Son of Saul.” There’s no way this isn’t nominated. Much has been said about how it’s a contender in other races like Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. It would be a shock to not see it nominated. Hungary has won the award only once, for “Mephisto” in 1981, out of eight nominations, The last of those bids was in 1988.
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Photos: "A Brand New Testament" (Terra Incognita Films); "The Fencer" (Nordisk Film)