Categories One-by-One: Foreign Language Film

ITALIANO
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Re: Categories One-by-One: Foreign Language Film

Postby ITALIANO » Sun Mar 04, 2018 4:08 am

Mister Tee wrote:I have to be the semi-dissenter on A Fantastic Woman; I didn’t think it was much of a movie. I liked the first 15 minutes or so – the set-up – and the initial scene with the female cop. But too much of the rest of the movie was a retread of so many civil right movies I’ve seen over the decades. BJ noted the film’s kinship with A Single Man, but I hasten to point out that Christopher Isherwood, being a gifted writer, made A Single Man about much more than the lover being excluded from his late lover’s funeral; in this film, it’s all there is to watch, and it becomes predictable after a while. (By the time the son semi-kidnapped Marina, I felt like I was watching a Mississippi klan movie.) The only interesting thing in the latter part of the film was the trip to the gym – both because of how it was shot, and because of the scene’s surprise denouement. (On the other hand, the walking-against-the-wind shot was too heavy-handed for words.) As far as I’m concerned, if this wins (as many are predicting), it’ll be strictly a political choice.



A politically correct choice, exactly. But the movie is, let's face it, awful.

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Re: Categories One-by-One: Foreign Language Film

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Mar 03, 2018 1:39 am

As I suspected, the closing of the Lincoln Plaza theatre made it more difficult for me to knock off all this year’s foreign film nominees. I had to travel well out of my comfort neighborhood to get four of them, and was expecting to have to do without On Body and Soul – but sudden access to Netflix streaming enabled to catch that, as well. So, finally, I can speak with knowledge of the full set.

I don’t think we can be certain we yet know the tendencies of voters in this category. During that long stretch when voting was limited to those who attended screenings, we got a pretty good idea of how they leaned – they’d come through for a widely popular film (like Fanny and Alexander or Crouching Tiger), but otherwise avoided anything challenging and opted too often for the sentimental… especially if it was set in the World War II era.

This changed when voting was opened to the entire membership. Actually, I wonder if it’s the entire membership votes that here – I’d guess some percentage finds keeping up with foreign films too much effort and, so, abstains. If so, they do us a favor: unlike the limited voting group of past decades, which tilted elderly (hence the sentiment), this bloc of self-selected overseas fans is apt to have more sophisticated taste. Certainly, its first few winners have included films that would have been hard-pressed to triumph in the old system – The Great Beauty and Son of Saul were esthetically bold efforts. But voters were willing to follow the critics’ lead and vote for them anyway. (This, by the way, is how it had been in the old, 1956-74 days – Academy voters back then may have made timid choices in the main categories, but they had no problem saluting Fellini, Bergman and Bunuel for foreign-language film.) It’s true Toni Erdmann proved a bridge too far for this group – the petits-four scene no doubt led to many “eject that DVD now” cries -- but the ultimate choice, The Salesman, was a legitimate fallback, not remotely in the Departures/In a Better World class.

Our problem this year, of course, is that the critics’ standard-bearer – BPM – failed to make the original list of 9, and then the Globe/Broadcast Critics’ choice – In the Fade – didn’t survive the cut to 5. So, entering this final round, voters have little guidance to work with, and we’re strictly guessing about what this current voter universe is likely to favor on its own.

I suppose the old group of sentimentalists might have gone for On Body and Soul, which, as Precious Doll and BJ have noted, is kind of a silly movie at heart. I actually thought it was pretty awful for a while (the early repeated deer shots made me think “bad student film”); then it became interesting when the intersecting dreams were introduced…but, in the end, it didn’t seem to be about much at all (half the plot turns seemed to be filler, for all they had to do with where the film ultimately went). I’d be surprised if this turned out the winner.

The Insult has what used to be the special sauce ingredient with the old group – Middle East subject matter – and I guess a fair number of people are finding it entertaining, so it can’t be ruled out. I gave my unimpressed reaction in the other foreign film thread.

I have to be the semi-dissenter on A Fantastic Woman; I didn’t think it was much of a movie. I liked the first 15 minutes or so – the set-up – and the initial scene with the female cop. But too much of the rest of the movie was a retread of so many civil right movies I’ve seen over the decades. BJ noted the film’s kinship with A Single Man, but I hasten to point out that Christopher Isherwood, being a gifted writer, made A Single Man about much more than the lover being excluded from his late lover’s funeral; in this film, it’s all there is to watch, and it becomes predictable after a while. (By the time the son semi-kidnapped Marina, I felt like I was watching a Mississippi klan movie.) The only interesting thing in the latter part of the film was the trip to the gym – both because of how it was shot, and because of the scene’s surprise denouement. (On the other hand, the walking-against-the-wind shot was too heavy-handed for words.) As far as I’m concerned, if this wins (as many are predicting), it’ll be strictly a political choice.

By me, the two strongest choices are Loveless and The Square. I was surprised to read BJ say that he felt he’d seen the marriage in Loveless fall apart many times before. I found it much more bracing than that – I was startled by the abject bitterness of the mother, which led me to blame her for everything…until I slowly saw the husband’s passive/aggressive part in the whole thing. The dialogue in these scenes struck me as pungent and engrossing. Then the entire little-boy-lost plot worked on multiple levels: first as simple lot-driver, then as a living symbol of how bad an idea their marriage was (and their desire to see it disappear), and finally, it seemed to me, as metaphor for life in Putin’s Russia – a Loveless Society, where the short-sighted narcissism of the present leaders close off any hope for future generations. I thought this was a terrific movie (and not bleak in the least) -- a real surprise, because I didn't like Leviathan at all.

The Square is also a fascinating, multi-leveled piece of work – until I saw Loveless, I thought it was by far the most dimensional work among all the nominees. It’s not a well-oiled machine – some scenes (like the savage at the formal dinner) go on too long and don’t connect up organically to the film as a while – but, like The Great Beauty, it takes a big, panoramic look at contemporary life and explores it thoroughly. This is far more the sort of film I’d like to see encouraged by awards than A Fantastic Woman.

I’d be perfectly happy for Loveless or The Square to win. Most people seem to think I should prepare myself for disappointment. We’ll see; I still think we don’t know for sure what this group of voters will favor, left to their own devices.

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Re: Categories One-by-One: Foreign Language Film

Postby Precious Doll » Wed Feb 21, 2018 1:32 am

Haven't seen The Insult and have no idea when it will come my way.

Of the remaining four I still think A Fantastic Woman is the one to beat for the reasons the BJ outlined. The added bonus being that Sony Classics are releasing it and they have had a very good track record with this category in recent years (In a Better World, A Separation, Amour, Son of Saul, The Salesman).

Sony also have Loveless but it's simply too bleak for Academy tastes but there is the rampant anti Putin aspects of the film that may help it.

The Square is this years Toni Erdmann - a long comedy that will not be to everyone's taste. Also it's distributed by Magnolia Pictures who simply do not have the resources to promote the film.

But the dark horse is definitely On Body and Soul. Whilst I didn't care for the film personally I know a number of people who adore it and it has gotten speculator audience responses wherever it has been shown. It's big negative - Netflix have the American rights and no doubt the screeners Academy members have will display the Netflix logo.

Whilst it would be fitting and great to see one of the two most interesting filmmakers to emerge this decade win this award (Ruben Östlund &Andrey Zvyagintsev), A Fantastic Woman would make a very respectable winner, though director Sebastián Lelio's first foray into English language cinema is I believe a real dog and I don't think he will ever reach the artistic heights of Östlund & Zvyagintsev).
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Categories One-by-One: Foreign Language Film

Postby The Original BJ » Tue Feb 20, 2018 10:48 pm

Some thoughts on this race, now that I've seen all five nominees:

A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
The Insult (Lebanon)
Loveless (Russia)
On Body and Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)

On Body and Soul strikes me as not hitting enough of a sweet spot anywhere to prevail -- it doesn't have quite the same level of acclaim as some films to win based on critical fiat, but neither does it resonate politically in a way that might make it a statement choice either. Given that the field feels more evenly matched than in some years, I'm not ruling anything out, but I'm not betting on this one.

The Insult DOES feel like the kind of movie that could win on subject matter alone, with its exploration of religious conflict in the Middle East, in a very palatable-to-western-audiences courtroom drama setting. But doesn't this also feel like the kind of movie that used to win a lot more often in the '90s and early aughts? Voters have been picking hipper, more critically-endorsed choices for much of the last decade.

Loveless would certainly qualify as a critical darling, with near across-the-board raves for its powerful story about one couple's long, tragedy-strewn breakup. But I wonder if this just might be too bleak and miserable-feeling a film overall to become a consensus choice, no matter how well-crafted it is.

The Square heads into the race with a Palme d'Or, though I can't say I have a great idea of what Oscar voters will think of this movie. On one hand, it's pretty weird by the Academy's standards, and may wear its experimental credentials too obviously on its sleeve to prevail. On the other hand, its sense of humor still makes it a pretty entertaining sit, and its subject matter (art and artists) could appeal to the filmmaking community.

But A Fantastic Woman seems like the movie that will check most of the boxes voters like -- pretty wide-spread critical acclaim, a straightforward narrative, emotional power, and subject matter (the discrimination faced by a grieving trans woman) that most voters would feel politically proud to endorse. And Daniela Vega has been a pretty public face for the movie -- she popped up prominently in pictures from the nominees luncheon, and was recently announced as a presenter for the Oscar telecast. I'm not remotely confident about this prediction, but I like its chances.


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