The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced this week that a record 83 countries had submitted an eligible film for the 2014 Foreign Language Film Oscar. A volunteer group of several hundred members now will trudge through those movies beginning Monday night with Poland’s much acclaimed Ida and wrapping up December 14 with Iceland’s Life In A Fishbowl.  

pete_hammond_300x100In between will be numerous films, good and bad, selected by their home countries for various reasons (sometimes political). As usual, these Academy members also will be subjected to unspeakable acts of violence to human beings and, according to their levels of squeamishness, will either be repulsed, impressed or numbed by what they see (yes, American films are not the only ones with sickening bloodletting scenes).

But what about the animals? For some who sign up to see these films, not knowing a thing about them except the country from which they come, they will be subjected to scenes of animal torture, fighting, slow death and so on. I can guarantee that, Academy members. I have seen some of these films already, in Cannes and elsewhere.

So consider this column a public service if the sight of innocent animals under duress disturbs you more than watching humans pummeled to death. And you know who you are. One dog_happy_big_slightlyshade regular Foreign Language committee member told me she has an antenna for such scenes and either leaves the theater or finds a way to shut it out during the movie.

My wife regularly makes me find out if any animals die before we go to a film together. And I recall my sister never went to another film about a dog after I made her take me to see Disney’s Old Yeller, in which Tommy Kirk is forced to shoot his dog, Yeller, when it gets rabies.

a194ba8037f42266c69213833a44408d6d9606a1Marley And Me and Turner And Hooch were big hits, but there are sensitive souls who would rather have back surgery than try to watch them because of scenes where the beloved pet dies. I don’t think this is uncommon.

One publicist who has encountered this problem with some of their Foreign Language entries told me this week, “I could never figure out why people have more problems with animal violence than acts of violence against humans!”

But for those who do have such problems, we can now be thankful, I guess, for a website that calls itself Does The Dog Die? They rate more than 700 films — not on their quality but whether a lovable animal is in peril or dies or beaten during the movie’s course. They rate each movie like this:

Happy Dog Icon: No pets die.
Sad Dog Icon: A pet is injured or appears dead but ultimately lives.
Crying Dog Icon: A pet dies.
I checked a random sample of some current 2014 award hopefuls (SPOILER ALERT) listed on the site and here is what they say:
Crying Dog Icon

Noah (2014)

Numerous CGI animals appear in the film; several are killed. A deer-like creature is shot with an arrow and dies while a young boy looks on. An animal resembling an antelope is flung into the air, split apart and eaten by men before it hits the ground. A lamb-like animal is slaughtered on board the ark; we hear it being killed.

Happy Dog Icon

The Drop (2014)

Rocco the pit bull puppy is rescued from a trash can at the beginning of the film. Though he is threatened during the film, he ends up living happily ever after with his rescuer.

Crying Dog Icon

The Good Lie (2014)

A dead gazelle is seen being eaten by cheetahs (we do not see it being killed).

Happy Dog Icon

Gone Girl (2014)

An orange cat belonging to the main characters appears throughout the film. It is never threatened and doesn’t come to any harm.

johnwickpromoYou get the idea. Even if you think a pet (as in Gone Girl or The Drop) could be in danger, the site tries to help you out.
As a critic, I generally see everything. (ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT) Recently, during a screening of the new Keanu Reeves film John Wick (due October 24 through Lionsgate), I really could have used a stronger warning from this site than simply, “Daisy, the main character’s dog, is killed.”
John Wick is an ultra-violent affair that plays like a video game, with nonstop killings of evil Russians. The movie, inexplicably praised at Fantastic Fest, shows Wick spurred into action against these cartoon villains after one of them beats him, but also beats to death the brand-new adorable beagle puppy given to him as a final gift from his recently deceased wife.
Keanu Reeves puppyAlthough the film itself is just silly action stuff, that scene stayed with me for days. Why was I more upset about what happened to Daisy the beagle (the film really lays on the cute dog stuff very thick before the puppy’s demise) than any of the endless human carnage?
Earlier this summer for a screening series I host, I showed the underrated 1975 Western Bite The Bullet, one of the most humane movies in the genre when it comes to the treatment of horses. But to do that, the film also shows a couple of scenes of excruciating horse writhing and death. Although the mostly older audience seemed to like it, I could tell many were uncomfortable despite the film’s message about treating animals with kindness — and at least three walked out, berating me for showing it.
BITE-THE-BULLET4They had no problem, though, with watching the bad guys done away with. Interestingly, Does The Dog Die? does not cover Bite The Bullet, perhaps because, according to their own guidelines, they don’t “cover every single instance of something bad happening to an animal in a movie. The focus here is on scenes involving a pet that people like us might find traumatic. If a random horse falls down during a gunfight in Young Guns, you won’t find that mentioned here.”
DTDD also doesn’t track actual treatment of animals during filming, but the problem is some of these scenes are so realistic many sensitive people (my wife included) can’t get around the fact “it’s only a movie.
So back to the Foreign Language race. In addition to Ida, Monday night’s second half of the double bill is Hungary’s White God, winner of the Un Certain Regard competition in Cannes this year — and rightly so. I found it to be an extraordinary film, but one that will disturb the hell out of unsuspecting viewers ( and perhaps some of those Academy
Director Mundruczo and cast member Psotta pose with a dog sitting on the desk during a photocall for the film "Feher isten" in competition for the category "Un Certain Regard" at the 67th Cannes Film Festival members who see it tomorrow).
It deals with a sweet dog named Hagen tossed onto the streets by its owner. Hagen has to fend for himself and along the way is turned by horrible human beings from a sweet canine into a vicious killer, sparking all the people in the town to literally “Beware Of Dog(s).”
The brilliant filmmaker Kornel Mundruczo says it is an allegory for Hungary itself. It was perhaps the most memorable film I saw in Cannes, but many argued with me about it and couldn’t get through it.
91544I hope it’s not penalized by voters for showing realistic dog violence and death (and nothing happened to the dogs, folks. Its star, Max, actually wowed the paparazzi at his Cannes press conference).
At the other end of the Foreign Language schedule this year is France’s entry Saint Laurentone of two 2014 films about Yves Saint Laurent, the famed designer who had a thing for bulldogs. Quite frankly, this version from director Bertrand Bonello that was in Cannes competition, with very mixed reviews, completely lost me in the scene where a drug-induced Saint Laurent spills all his many, many pills on the floor, followed by a gut-wrenching scene where we watch his beloved dog, Moujik, gobble them up and then slowly die of a drug overdose shown in great saint-laurentdetail.
I have a feeling some Academy viewers may feel the same way. Then again, a very affecting dog-death scene didn’t affect the chances of Denmark’s very fine The Hunt, which managed to make the final five nominees last year. This is how DTDD describes it for sensitive viewers:

Crying Dog Icon

The Hunt (2012)

Early in the film, a deer is shot and killed. The main character’s dog Fanny is killed and delivered wrapped up to her master (Lucas). We don’t see what is wrapped up when Lucas first looks but we can guess. However, his son fights to see what it is and then we see it is Fanny. When Lucas is burying his dog, we see several shots of her lying dead on the ground.

Oscar voters in the Foreign Language category sensitive to animal violence do have one thing to be thankful for at least. Japan wisely didn’t submit Naomi Kawase’s dreadful Still The Water, a 2014 Cannes competition entry that opens on a close-up of a goat’s throat being slashed open as blood swarms out (a scene repeated later in the film). Yuk. Did we really need that — twice? 

Perhaps the MPAA should create a rating system aimed at adults who might want to know if a movie has these kinds of scenes. We don’t care about the human violence and nudity, MPAA. I haven’t seen the great majority of the 83 films on view this year for Best Foreign Language Film, so who knows what pleasures await? But consider yourself warned, animal-loving Oscar voters.