Editor’s Note: Our countdown to Oscar night turns to the films not in the English language
Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia)
Son of Saul (Hungary)
A War (Denmark)
Trivia: France is celebrating its 39th win in this category (from the 67 times this award has been given out). It has won 12 times. Denmark is celebrating its 13th nomination. This is indicative of the category being dominated by European foreign films (55 of the winners have been European). Each director is celebrating their first nomination.
The foreign language category remains something of an oddity for Oscar. It’s a great category, shining a light on films not in the English Language, which too often go unnoticed by the mainstream. It’s the only category which does not go to a person. The director accepts but the award is given to a country, and each country is allowed to submit a single potential nominee. There have been issues when films have been disqualified for not having enough dialogue in the required foreign language, or not having been produced with enough finance from their respective countries creating a whole series of other issues.
This year, Colombia and Jordan are both earning their first nominations.
Hungary’s Son of Saul is the frontrunner here. It won the Grand Prix prize at the Cannes and is easily the most notable of the nominees. Nothing is ever certain with awards, but it’s likely this will be to its benefit. The story of a prisoner in Auschwitz tasked with burying the dead (Oscar loves it World War 2 stories) is moving and heartrending, just the way that critics like it.
If Hungary has a large adversary to watch out for it is most likely France’s Mustang. As is typical of the nominees in this category, this is another potent story of rough issues. Mustang tells of a quintet of girls trying to explore their youth under the spectre of marriages being arranged for them before they find time to experience the freedom of childhood.
Theeb recalls Oscars’ history of loving deserts (see The English Patient, Lawrence of Arabia and this year’s own Mad Max) telling the story of two brothers in a Bedouin community helping a British soldier group find water in the desert. Man fighting against the surroundings and searching for things out of reach is a recurring theme for the nominees. Colombia’s entry recounts a shaman in South America helping two scientists find a plant with reportedly healing power and Danish entry A War follows an army commander battling the elements in Afghanistan while his family tries to hold it together.
It’s very rare for the frontrunner in this category not to emerge successful though. We would have to go a decade back to Pan’s Labyrinth the last time anything close to an “upset” happened in this category. With that in mind, it seems assured that Son of Saul is heading to an Oscar win. Another win for Europe, but hardly an undeserved one.