After whittling down from 93 country submissions to a shortlist of 15, the Oscars’ Best International Feature category has its final five nominees, welcoming some familiar faces, and for the first time, an entirely new entrant.
Lunana: A Yak In The Classroom by filmmaker Pawo Choyning Dorji, is only the second movie ever submitted from the small landlocked Asian country of Bhutan, and garnered its first Oscar mention on the same film’s second try. The solar-powered movie, shot with one camera, was originally submitted last year but had been disqualified because an official selection committee had not been formed. They regrouped and resubmitted, to a successful result.
Dorji, speaking with Deadline from Taiwan today was ebullient. “It feels like a dream, like I’ll wake up tomorrow and it will have been a dream.”
With Bhutan currently under Covid lockdown, Dorji told me the Academy recognition has “lifted the spirit in the country… The most magical part of this is it was so unexpected. This is my first film — I wasn’t supposed to be here, the film wasn’t supposed to be here… I hope it inspires Bhutanese and Himalayan filmmakers.”
Across the rest of the field there are three films which have multiple nominations. Perhaps most notably, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car made history as the first title from Japan to ever be nominated for Best Picture (and overall took four total nominations, including also Adapted Screenplay and Director). As of writing, Hamaguchi is still on a a plane so is not aware of what’s happened.
Also in the International Feature category, Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee clocked in as the first title ever to score a trifecta of Oscar nominations in the Best Animated Feature, Best Documentary Feature and Best International Feature Film races.
Meanwhile, Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person In The World crossed over to the Original Screenplay race; and The Great Beauty Oscar winner Paolo Sorrentino scored his second International Feature nomination with The Hand Of God.
I spoke with Sorrentino following the nominations and he said it was “an unbelievable satisfaction that this particular movie is being recognized around the world and by the Academy. It’s a movie about my family and my whole life… When I started to think about this movie, I thought to do a small movie for a few people, for the people of my city. I never had the feeling this could be a movie for a huge crowd… So all this thing happening is really surprising.” He’s also “really happy to be among so many important directors,” adding, “It’s not important who wins, it’s the journey.”
When I caught up with Trier in Norway, he was at a bar owned by a friend and having a lunchtime celebration. He expressed surprise, and gratitude, on the Original Screenplay nod. He and co-nominee Eskil Vogt have worked on all Trier’s films since his early shorts through to his features. “This means a lot to us. We made this film in the same personal style that we always have. I’m happy that collaboration is being recognized in this way,” Trier said. The pair were shoulder-to-shoulder in that bar when the nominations were announced and it was “incredible.”
Trier continued that the screenplay “combines a romantic comedy with something melancholic and dramatic, and to try to balance that out has been a long process with Eskil and the team… So I see (the nomination) as a pat on a shoulder that somehow we managed to combine emotions in one film and somehow it’s also nice that it’s being released in cinemas coming back after a pandemic.”
Trier is also “very happy to see the Oscars getting more international. There’s a lot of great cinema coming from around the world, it’s wonderful to see it getting recognized.”
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