Among the group of five filmmakers who advanced in the Best Foreign Language Oscar race this morning, there is joy, humility, a heavy sigh of relief and a first-time nod for Lebanon. There’s also a return nominee — and a couple of films that are rather conspicuously absent.
Looking first at the snubs, a notable absentee among the nominees is Israeli director Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot, a movie that folks adored when it premiered in Venice and won the Grand Jury Prize. Along with that drama, there was no advancement for Fatih Akin’s In The Fade. The movie won Diane Kruger the Best Actress prize in Cannes last year and she and her director have been hitting red carpets all over the world since. While the Globe win was something of a surprise, the terrorism drama had seemed to pick up momentum in the past few weeks. The other two films that did not make the nominations cut are The Wound from South Africa and Félicité from Senegal.
Ruben Ostlund knows what it’s like not to make the jump from the shortlist to the nominations. His 2014 Force Majeure famously, and egregiously for some, did not pass out of the field of nine. Today was a different story as his art-world satire The Square (Magnolia) secured a nomination. Ostlund woke up in Park City this morning to watch the nominations with his wife. About 15 seconds after his name and that of his Cannes Palme d’Or winner were read off, his WME agents started knocking on the door, champagne bottles at the ready. “They were waiting outside the room. They took a big risk,” he laughed when I spoke with him earlier. “That was really beautiful of them.”
Back in 2014, Ostlund made a video of he and producer Erik Hemmendorff reacting to Force Majeure‘s snub. Late last year, he told me he would tape himself watching this nominations announcement, and promised he would “cut together the best sequel in YouTube history.” He confirmed this morning that he filmed the announcement again, as did members of his cast like Claes Bang and Elisabeth Moss from their respective perches. He’s now working on getting the video together as quickly as he can. In the meantime, and by way of celebration, he’s spending the morning skiing and will catch two films in Sundance where he is a jury member. His next movie will be in English, so he had told me late last year that this might be the Academy’s last chance to give him a nomination in the FL category. Today, he laughed, “Thank them for me. They could have made a historical mistake. Now I am very grateful and humble.”
Up with a first-time nomination is Sebastian Lelio and his Pablo Larrain-produced drama A Fantastic Woman (SPC). This is only Chile’s second-ever nomination — the first one belongs to Larrain and his 2012 No.
A Fantastic Woman stars Daniela Vega as Marina, a young transgender waitress and singer who is forced to confront suspicion and contempt after the death of her older lover. It won prizes in Berlin earlier this year and scored a Golden Globe nomination.
Lelio is a hot property these days, he’s remaking his own 2013 drama Gloria in English starring Julianne Moore, and his next movie to release is the English-language Disobedience with Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams. When I caught him up with him on the phone from Santiago, Chile, he was about to step into a press conference for local media.
He says he and his producers, Juan de Dios and Pablo Larraín and Gonzalo Maza (who’s also the co-writer) and editor Soledad Salfate watched the nominations together. “We were drinking coffee and watching them and then suddenly we were jumping around.” He then spoke with Vega who he said was “touched and grateful and happy. We had a very beautiful conversation, remembering how two years ago we were shooting wondering if everything was going to even work. It seems like a long beautiful journey.”
While the multi-layered/multi-genre A Fantastic Woman is “not a cause film,” Lelio says at its center “is a real beating heart, Daniela’s heart. It is a portrait of a real transgender woman, so it’s undeniable that dimension of the film is crucial… I’m happy to see it well received within the community, but especially how generously it has been received by people have no connection to the community, who have just been exposed to a love story that has a transgender woman. The complexity is beautiful.”
From Hungary, Ildiko Enyedi’s On Body And Soul (Netflix) was the Golden Bear winner in Berlin just about a year ago. A love story set in a Budapest slaughterhouse, it centers on a man and woman who discover they share the same dream every night and try to recreate it in broad daylight. The movie marked Enyedi’s return to the international stage 28 years after she won Cannes’ Camera d’Or for her first feature, My Twentieth Century.
Enyedi told me today she had “all sorts of preconceptions about what sort of films can make it to this point. This really goes against all my prejudices, it’s such a humbling feeling.” She notes that at the same time, “It’s meaningful for other people and you immediately feel yourself more at home on the face of the Earth; that what you are doing means something for others.”
The director was a bit superstitious about watching the nominations but her crew insisted they all get togetehr. “It was such a good idea because we were in such harmony.” She was heading to a press conference this afternoon in Hungary and wants to be sure to give a special thanks to the Hungarian Film Fund which gave her the money she needed to make both her first and this movie. “There was a grown-up trust from the Film Fund that they gave us the money and said, ‘Go and make it and tell us when you feel ready.’ They allowed me to concentrate on the work.”
Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult (Cohen Media Group) was a big hit with the Foreign Language committee. The Franco-Lebanese director did not have an easy time getting to this stage, however. After winning the Best Actor Volpi Cup for The Insult’s lead Kamel El Basha in Venice, Doueiri returned to Lebanon and was promptly detained, his passports confiscated and his presence required at a military tribunal. The focus of the inquest was his having shot part of his previous film, The Attack, in Israel. The incident, while quickly resolved, brought international attention to Doueiri and The Insult. Since then, Lebanon has continued to be in the news over censorship issues, recently banning Steven Spielberg’s The Post only to overturn the decision a few days later.
The Insult is the first film from Lebanon to score an FL nomination. It centers on the story of an insult blown out of proportion that lands two men, one a Lebanese Christian, the other a Palestinian refugee, in court.
Doueiri previously told me there was a certain gratification to having The Insult selected as Lebanon’s Oscar entry, particularly after The Attack was banned in 22 Arab countries, including Lebanon. Today, he says the nomination “gives you some sort of redemption and comfort.” What the film “accomplished today is phenomenal,” he adds, noting, “It’s not me, it’s all of us. I’m so happy we are winning a battle on an international scene.”
Rounding up the proceedings is previous Globe winner and Oscar nominee, Andrey Zvyagintsev. His Cannes Jury Prize laureate Loveless (Sony Pictures Classics) marks the second recent nomination for the Russian director after his 2014 Leviathan. The film revolves around a couple going through a vicious divorce marked by resentment, frustration and recriminations. But when their 12-year-old son disappears after witnessing one of their fights, the pair must come together. It was also up for a Golden Globe, a prize Zvyagintsev took with Leviathan in 2014, although the Oscar ultimately went to Ida.
Zvyagintsev and his producer Alexander Rodnyansky sent me an email from Russia to say, “We are absolutely thrilled by this recognition from the Academy. It means a great deal to us as filmmakers and it encourages us to continue to tell the stories that move us, in the way we want to tell them.”