If one’s diet of international cinema were to consist only of Oscar-shortlisted titles, they would be missing out on some of the best of what filmmakers around the world have to offer. That’s not a knock at the academy’s taste. After all, it can only consider one submission per country. Nevertheless, this system of selecting nominees could use a facelift, if not to acknowledge the increasing prominence of multinational films then to at least shed light on suppressed art like Jafar Panahi’s “No Bears.”
SEE 2023 Oscars: Best International Feature Predictions
This year, 15 movies were selected from 92 submissions to compete for Best International Feature:
Argentina, “Argentina, 1985”
Cambodia, “Return to Seoul”
Denmark, “Holy Spider”
France, “Saint Omer”
Germany, “All Quiet on the Western Front”
India, “Last Film Show”
Ireland, “The Quiet Girl”
Mexico, “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths”
Morocco, “The Blue Caftan”
South Korea, “Decision to Leave”
Sweden, “Cairo Conspiracy”
Even though we knew “RRR” and “Broker” couldn’t be shortlisted, it was still disappointing not to see Spain’s “Alcarràs” and Ukraine’s “Klondike” among the 15 finalists. Much will be written in the coming weeks about these contenders before Oscar nominations voting ends on January 17, so let’s instead highlight 11 titles which are not in the race for Best International Feature but that still make for worthwhile viewing.
A family’s business is literally uprooted when their landlord decides to transition from agriculture to solar energy. While Quimet (Jordi Pujol Dolcet) rages at his father for not having formalized their claim to the land in writing, his eldest, Roger (Albert Bosch), has a solution that will subsidize the Solé family’s peach orchards and stave off reliance on the solar panels that threaten their replacement. “Alcarràs” won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and was Spain’s Oscar entry.
Some reviews have slighted “Alcarràs” for lacking narrative punch, but the movie’s impact lands precisely because director Carla Simón opts for unburnished naturalism over declarative melodrama. It’s easy to picture a Hollywood studio re-engineering “Alcarràs” for an American audience. That version would likely capitalize on, for example, the building tension between Quimet and Roger over the latter’s marijuana-growing scheme with the explosive confrontation most who’ve seen the movie were no doubt expecting. That’s not to say, however, that the story would in any way be improved. “Alcarràs” keeps its distance and is all the better for it.
Song Kang-ho won Cannes’ Best Actor prize for his quiet, resonant performance as a hustler with a heart of gold in Hirokazu Koreeda’s “Broker.” The director’s second non-Japanese-language feature is about a pair of infant traffickers and a young mother who bond while trying to find a suitable home for the latter’s newborn. Koreeda, who explored makeshift families in 2013’s “Like Father, Like Son” and 2018’s “Shoplifters,” is at the peak of his craft. The film had initially been considered for submission by South Korea but was passed over for “Decision to Leave” (directed by Song’s frequent collaborator, Park Chan-wook).
Any remaining chance for “Broker” to compete dissipated when Japan went with relatively unknown director Chie Hayakawa’s “Plan 75,” a sci-fi drama about government-sponsored euthanasia.
In addition to being the kind of movie that gets nominated for Best International Feature, “Broker” is made by a director who’s already gotten into this category — the aforementioned “Shoplifters.” It’s also headlined by one of South Korea’s most well-regarded actors. Japan’s gamble didn’t pay off, as “Plan 75” was not included among the 15 shortlisted titles.
“The Innocents,” directed by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Eskil Vogt (“The Worst Person in the World”), can be best summarized as a superhero origin story that crosses Josh Trank’s “Chronicle” with Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project.” There’s also more than a dash of Stephen King in this uncompromisingly dark tale of warring young telepaths.
Any genre fan hungry for fresh, non-IP material will find a lot to like about “The Innocents.” And every viewer will surely be astonished by how well the film’s young stars embody their ruthless characters. Between torturing animals in a boiling pot of water, about which nothing else should be said, these kids find some really twisted ways to pass summer break.
The real-life 2014 tragedy of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 underpins this microcosm of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. At the epicenter of the wreckage, and this film, is a couple expecting their first child. Heavy-handed symbolism isn’t always a detriment. In this case, the overt metaphor allows director Maryna Er Gorbach to more saliently communicate the stakes of a currently unfolding human rights disaster.
The combination of a timely subject and strong reviews made “Klondike” look like an obvious choice on paper. However, Ukraine’s submission was not shortlisted. One thing you can’t call the academy is opportunistic.
Resentments between a teenager (Gracija Filipović) and her parents flare when a wealthy friend of the family (Cliff Curtis) visits to close a land deal. The movie slowly builds to a chilling, albeit opaque, conclusion. “Murina” discovers a major talent in its young star.
Martin Scorsese’s producing credit gave this tense Croatian family drama much-deserved visibility, but it didn’t inspire confidence in the Film Artists’ Association of Croatia, which decided to submit “Safe Place” instead. We’ll never know whether “Murina” would’ve scored Romania a nomination, but anyone who appreciates brutally incisive depictions of domestic dysfunction should add the movie to their watchlist.
The past several years have witnessed an upswing in movies about the power of cinema, but few are as philosophically concerned with film’s material limits as Jafar Panahi’s “No Bears.” The movie is narratively experimental by necessity, an example of what A.O. Scott calls “clandestine metacinema.” Panahi, whom Iranian authorities had banned from making movies, received a six-year prison sentence prior to this film’s release. Iran submitted “World War III,” which did not get shortlisted.
It’s long been argued that the system in place for nominating international features creates blind spots that are friendly to authoritarian powers. After all, it’s no surprise the country’s nominating committee would decline to submit a movie illegally produced by an imprisoned dissident. Ignoring “No Bears” because the regime it’s critical of blocked its submission seems antithetical to the ethos of an industry that prides itself on being able to highlight critical global issues. It’s a relief “Joyland” is still eligible. Had a recent ruling regarding the film’s status in Pakistan come sooner, that too would have never entered the race. The academy should support persecuted artists rather than censorial governments.
Stationed in Tahiti, a corrupt diplomat (Benoît Magimel) finds himself the unfortunate public face of France’s decision to resume nuclear testing on the Polynesian island. A film less subversive than “Pacification” would milk the picturesque setting for its romantic tropical vistas, but director Albert Serra imbues it with a deathly blood-orange glow, thereby casting an atmosphere of Cold War-era paranoia and eschatological dread.
Serra is among contemporary European cinema’s most exciting voices, and “Pacification” is a visual achievement that will outlive this awards cycle—something the academy would no doubt recognize were it to liberate itself from the current one-country-one-film rule. Fans of David Lynch and Nic Winding Refn should familiarize themselves with Serra’s work and check out “Pacification” once it becomes available in February.
After a mysterious incident traumatizes his young son, a remittance worker (Marin Grigore) in Germany comes back to his isolated Transylvanian hometown. This familial matter segues into a sociopolitical commentary on the ways economic insecurity begets collective hate. You may have read about the movie’s climax—a static, unbroken shot of a cacophonous town hall meeting—but “R.M.N.” doesn’t take that long to get under your skin.
Romania submitted “Immaculate,” an addiction drama about sexual abuse, and didn’t qualify for the next round of voting. It’s tough to say whether the higher-profile “R.M.N.,” its title derived from the Romanian acronym for “nuclear magnetic resonance,” would’ve fared better. On the one hand, it’s directed by acclaimed filmmaker Cristian Mungiu; on the other, two of Mungiu’s previously selected films, 2007 Palme d’Or winner “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” and 2012’s “Beyond the Hills,” did not receive Oscar nominations. Awards calculus aside, this hard-hitting and unforgettable autopsy of working-class malaise is a must-see.
Historical figures Khomaram Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao, Jr.) and Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan) are transformed into mythical action heroes for a spectacle that will make viewers unfamiliar with Tollywood blockbusters feel as if they’ve been reintroduced to cinema. “RRR” doesn’t so much suspend the principles of physics as escalate them. The CGI-heavy set pieces are ludicrously over the top but never incoherently choreographed.
The Telugu-language action-musical was released by Netflix over the summer and has been steadily collecting fans ever since, many of whom belong to the critics groups that championed “Drive My Car” to Best Picture and Best Director nominations a year ago. Director S.S. Rajamouli won NYFCC’s directing prize and is, according to Gold Derby’s Best Director odds, which rank him ninth, the international filmmaker with the greatest chance of nabbing one of the category’s five slots. If Rajamouli’s bid is successful, “RRR” will join “Talk to Her,” “La Vie en Rose,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” and “Parallel Mothers” on the list of non-English films to receive nominations and/or wins in major categories despite not being submitted for Best International Feature.
“Speak No Evil”
Two vacationing families meet in Italy and agree to stay in touch after the holidays end. When they reunite, initial displays of metropolitan etiquette quickly give way to provincial idiosyncrasies. The weekend’s increasing awkwardness builds to one helluva finale that will make you alternately squeam in horror and loudly bemoan the stupidity of the characters on screen. But it wouldn’t be a good thriller without someone making a bone-headed move.
“Speak No Evil” premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival to strong reviews. It’s not really Oscar bait, so Denmark’s decision to instead submit “Holy Spider” is understandable. Nevertheless, this Danish horror-comedy-of-manners is a worthwhile watch if you like laughing in discomfort.
“You Won’t Be Alone”
A 19th-century-set supernatural coming-of-age story, “You Won’t Be Alone” follows a shapeshifter who compensates for 16 years spent in captivity by living in various forms across the Macedonian countryside.
“You Won’t Be Alone” is an example of “New Folk Horror,” a trend that’s given us Robert Eggers’ “The Witch” and Valdimar Jóhannsson’s “Lamb.” However, the film plays more like an existentialist drama directed by Terrence Malick.
Hers isn’t a name you’ll hear this awards season, but Anamaria Marinca gives one of the year’s best performances as an exiled witch whose progeny finds the acceptance she couldn’t. Though the film was shot in Serbia and its dialogue is spoken in Macedonian, it was submitted by Australia, where debut director Goran Stolevski’s second film, “Of an Age,” has already picked up an accolade.