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Wednesday, January 8, 2014
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2014 Foreign Language Oscar Breakdown

By Terence Johnson
Managing Editor

The Oscar race is never a dull one and that couldn’t be any more apparent than in the race for Best Foreign Language film. This year is certainly shaping up to be a battle of David vs. Goliath if you looked at the histories of the countries competing. In one corner, you have Italy, with a whopping 12 wins in this category, facing off with a country like Cambodia, with no Oscar nominations. But such is the beauty of the awards season and the Oscars. So before the nominations come out, here’s an Oscar primer to get you caught up on the Foreign Language films.

Belgium – 2013 Nominee: The Broken Circle Breakdown
Logline/Synopsis: Elise and Didier fall in love at first sight, in spite of their differences. He talks, she listens. He’s a romantic atheist, she’s a religious realist. When their daughter becomes seriously ill, their love is put on trial.
Oscar History: 1970 – Paix Sur Les Champs, 1988 – The Music Teacher, 1992 – Daens, 1994 – Farinelli: Il Castrato, 2000 – Everybody Famous!, 2011 – Bullhead

Bosnia – 2013 Nominee: An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker
Logline/Synopsis: Nazif barely makes ends meet as an iron picker to support his family. He searches daily for scrap metal while his partner Senada tends to their home and their two young daughters. A third baby is on the way. After a long days work, Nazif finds Senada laid up in pain. The following day, he borrows a car to drive her to the nearest clinic. The diagnosis is that Senada has miscarried and is still carrying her dead five-month old fetus. The condition is critical and Senada needs immediate treatment at a faraway city hospital. Because she does not have a state-provided health insurance card, the hospital requests that Senada pay 980 Bosnian marks (500 euros), a fortune for a modest iron picker. Despite Nazifs begging, Senada is denied the crucial surgery and forced to return home to their Roma community in central Bosnia and Herzegovina. For the next 10 days, Nazif will do everything he can to try and save Senadas life desperately searching for more scrap metal, seeking help from state institutions For the next 10 days, Nazif and Senada will be fully exposed to the callousness of contemporary society.
Oscar History: 2001 – No Man’s Land WON

Cambodia – 2013 Nominee: The Missing Picture
Logline/Synopsis: Rithy Panh uses clay figures, archival footage, and his narration to recreate the atrocities Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge committed between 1975 and 1979.
Oscar History: No previous nominations

Denmark – 2013 Nominee: The Hunt
Logline/Synopsis: A teacher lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son’s custody. His life slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by an innocent little lie.
Oscar History: 1956 Qivitoq, 1959 – Paw, 1961 – Harry and the Butler, 1987 – Babette’s Feast WON, 1988 – Pelle the Conqueror WON, 1989 – Waltzing Regitze, 2006 – After the Wedding, 2010 – In a Better World WON, 2012 – A Royal Affair

Germany – 2013 Nominee: Two Lives
Logline/Synopsis: Europe 1990, the Berlin wall has just crumbled: Katrine, raised in East Germany, now living in Norway since 20 years, is a war child: the result of a love relationship between a Norwegian woman and a German occupation soldier during World War II. Katrine enjoys a happy family life, with her mother, her husband, daughter and grand-daughter. But when a lawyer asks her and her mother to witness in a trial against the Norwegian state on behalf of the war children, she resists. Gradually, a web of concealment and secrets is unveiled, until Katrine is finally stripped of everything, and her loved ones are forced to take a stand: What carries more weight, the life they have lived together, or the lie it is based on?
Oscar History: 1990 – The Nasty Girl, 1992 – Schtonk!, 1997 – Beyond Silence, 2002 – Nowhere in Africa WON, 2004 – Downfall, 2005 – Sophie Scholl – The Final Days, 2006 – The Lives of Others WON, 2008 – The Baeder Meinhof Complex, 2009 – The White Ribbon

Hong Kong – 2013 Nominee: The Grandmaster
Logline/Synopsis: The story of martial-arts master Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee.
Oscar History: 1991 – Raise the Red Lantern and 1993 – Farewell My Concubine

Hungary – 2013 Nominee: The Notebook
Logline/Synopsis: Twin siblings enduring the harshness of WWII in a village on the Hungarian border hedge their survival on studying and learning from the evil surrounding them.
Oscar History: 1968 – The Boys of Paul Street, 1974 – Cat’s Play, 1978 – Hungarians, 1980 – Confidence, 1981 – Mephisto, 1983 – Job’s Revolt, 1985 – Colonel Redl, 1988 – Hanussen

Italy – 2013 Nominee: The Great Beauty
Logline/Synopsis: Jep Gambardella has seduced his way through the lavish nightlife of Rome for decades, but after his 65th birthday and a shock from the past, Jep looks past the nightclubs and parties to find a timeless landscape of absurd, exquisite beauty.
Oscar History: 1947 – Shone-Shine WON, 1949 – The Bicycle Thief WON, 1950 – The Walls of Malapaga WON, 1956 – La Strada WON, 1957 – The Nights of Cabiria WON, 1958 – The Usual Unidentified Thieves, 1959 – The Great War, 1960 – Kapo, 1962 – The Four Days of Naples, 1963 – Frederico Fellini’s 8 ½ WON, 1964 – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow WON, 1965 – Divorce Italian Style, 1966 – The Battle of Algiers, 1968 – The Girl with the Pistol, 1970 – Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion WON, 1971 The Garden of Finzi Continis WON, 1974 – Amarcord WON, 1975 – Scent of a Woman, 1976 – Seven Beauties, 1977 – A Special Day, 1978 – Viva Italia!, 1979 – To Forget Venice, 1981 – Three Brothers, 1987 – The Family, 1989 – Cinema Paradiso WON, 1990 – Open Doors, 1991 – Mediterraneo WON, 1995 – The Star Maker, 1998 – Life is Beautiful WON, 2005 – Don’t Tell

Palestine – 2013 Nominee: Omar
Logline/Synopsis: Omar is accustomed to dodging surveillance bullets to cross the separation wall to visit his secret love Nadia. But occupied Palestine knows neither simple love nor clear-cut war. On the other side of the wall, the sensitive young baker Omar becomes a freedom fighter who must face painful choices about life and manhood. When Omar is captured after a deadly act of resistance, he falls into a cat-and-mouse game with the military police. Suspicion and betrayal jeopardize his longtime trust with accomplices and childhood friends Amjad and Tarek, Nadia’s militant brother. Omar’s feelings quickly become as torn apart as the Palestinian landscape. But it’s soon evident that everything he does is for his love of Nadia.
Oscar History: 2005 – Paradise Now

If you had to pick a favorite at the moment, it would more than likely be The Great Beauty, a film that has been picked up some major critics and was also nominated for a Golden Globe, and has the history of the country picking up nominations and wins in this very category. Having seen this movie, I can say that it would certainly make a worthy winner and fit right in with previous Italian Oscar wins (the film is so modern Fellini it’s crazy).

Looking past this front-runner, the next two films in line are The Broken Circle Breakdown and The Hunt. The Broken Circle Breakdown has gotten some great ink as well and people are loving the performances. It’s perhaps the most modern of the films in competition with it’s nonlinear construction and some of its ripped from the headlines plot points. However, the narrative kind of falls under it’s own weight in the second half and it does get a bit preachy at times. Belgium has been nominated 6 times and not won, so that streak will eventually have to end right?

The Hunt is riding almost two years worth of a campaign into this race and has a big star (Mads Mikkelson) headlining the film. It’s a thriller and the country has a pretty good track record with Oscar with 3 wins in this category.

After those films, it’s basically a mix and match with what can get in. The Grandmaster has both Martin Scorsese and Harvey Weinstein behind it, with two recognizable stars in the lead roles. With things not going Harvey’s way in other categories, except them to make a big push here. The Missing Picture might not come from a country with a super successful Oscar picture, but I think the novelty of Claymation and archival footage will keep it in play. Omar, The Notebook and An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker seem to be the films not many people are talking about.

I saved Two Lives for last because I’m wondering if we’re due for another surprise win in this category. Germany has a long film history and over the course have that was surprised with nominations and wins before (The Lives of Others) against bigger competition (Pan’s Labyrinth). Could this new film with WWII subject matter pull off the same type of upset?

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