EXCLUSIVE: I’ve just learned that Oscar’s ever-growing Foreign-Language Film lineup has received shockers from Spain and Italy. Spain didn’t select the presumed favorite, two-time Oscar winner Pedro Almodovar with his The Skin I Live In starring frequent Almodovar collaborator Antonio Banderas. Instead, Spain chose the more obscure Pa Negre (Black Bread), an eerie mystery set in the years following the Spanish Civil War. It swept the Goya awards in February, winning 9 out of 14 nominations. (Almodovar’s film just opened in Spain this month and won’t be eligible until next year’s Goya contest.) It is true that Almodovar has been consistently snubbed by the Spanish Film Academy, which makes the selections. The renowned director was bypassed for Talk To Her and Broken Embraces after winning the Oscar for Spain for All About My Mother in 1999. The situation got so contentious for a while that Almodovar actually resigned from the Spanish Academy as a protest against what he perceived as unfair voting practices. However, letting bygones be bygones, he did rejoin in April of this year. It was expected that goodwill gesture would be enough to put him back in the driver’s seat when it came time to vote for the Academy submission. But once again Spain’s most famous director has been overlooked in favor of another: the talented Agusti Villaronga, who does not nearly enjoy the international reputation of Almodovar. Sony Pictures Classics picked up Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In and will release it stateside on October 21st. Pa Negre has played a few American festivals but does not have any U.S. release as of now.
It was thought (by me in my preview) and others that the Foreign-Language Film race would fall right in line with the official competition of May’s Cannes Film Festival and contain high-profile films from well-known and well-rewarded directors. Instead, Spain and Italy both went a completely different way Wednesday in choosing the films that will represent them.
Italy has turned its nose up at Nanni Moretti’s well-received Cannes entry Habemus Papam, a very entertaining comedy/drama about what happens when the newly elected Pope gets cold feet and goes AWOL in Rome. IFC picked it up for U.S. distribution. Instead, the Italians chose the lesser known Emanuele Crialese film Terraferma, about the consequences when a group of North African migrants land on an Italian island. It won some awards at this year’s Venice Film Festival and also played Toronto. It opened in Italy this month but does not have U.S. distribution. Italy caused some waves last year bypassing the international hit I Am Love starring Tilda Swinton in favor of the lesser-known The First Beautiful Thing, which did not get nominated or even reach the Academy’s shortlist of 9 finalists). No surprise that Italy has not won the Foreign-Language Film Oscar since Roberto Begnini’s memorable triumph for 1998’s Life Is Beautiful. Spain last won in 2004 for The Sea Inside.
Several countries are still to be heard from and have until Monday to submit their choice. Last year there were 65 entries.