Oscars 2017: ‘Eva Nova’ could reap Slovakia first Foreign-Language Film nomination

“Eva Nová” is Slovakia’s lauded entry for the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar and it arrives loaded with plaudits — including the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival — and critical hosannas. “A Slovak variation of sorts on John Cassavetes’ “Opening Night,” with a “bravura” lead performance, notes Boyd van Hoeij (The Hollywood Reporter) while Alissa Simon (Variety) describes it as “small, but heartfelt” with an “unglamorous but full-bodied role” for its star that offers “a glimmer of the redeeming power of love.”

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The feature film debut of documentarian Marko Škop, “Eva Nová” is built around Slovak stage and screen legend Emília Vášáryová, who delivers a quiet and emotionally raw performance as a washed-up but still formidable actress, fresh from a third stint in rehab, who struggles to maintain her shaky sobriety, hold onto the dregs of her once-vaunted career and reconnect with the son she had long abandoned.

The film rests on the expressive, careworn features of its leading lady, who is shot frequently in medium close-up, often in unflattering light, and in frequent long takes where Vášáryová is required to simply be still and present in the moment. She conveys volumes with small gestures and quicksilver flickers of emotion. It’s an unvarnished but deeply moving and absorbing performance. Academy members will eat it up.

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Czechoslovakia was nominated six times for the foreign-language prize — winning in 1965 for “The Shop on Main Street,” which also earned its star Ida Kaminska a Best Actress bid, and again in 1967 for “Closely Watched Trains.” The country’s most recent nomination was for “The Elementary School” in 1991, two years before its split. Since then, the Czech Republic has scored one win from three nominations (“Kolya,” 1996) but Slovakia has been perenially snubbed despite submitting 19 times. Eva Nová offers an excellent chance to catch up.

And Vášáryová would certainly be a superb choice for a leading actress nomination, joining such divas of world cinema as Oscar winners Simone Signoret (“Room at the Top,” 1959), Sophia Loren (“Two Women,” 1961) and Marion Cotillard (“La Vie en Rose,” 2007) and nominees Melina Mercouri (Never on Sunday, 1960), Anouk Aimee (“A Man and a Woman,” 1966), Catherine Deneuve (“Indochine,” 1992), Fernanda Montenegro (“Central Station,” 1998) and Charlotte Rampling (“45 Years,” 2015).

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