Today’s Oscar nominations for International Feature served up some significant firsts for the category which continues to showcase world cinema at its finest. Notably, Romania finally scored a mention with Alexander Nanau’s Collective — which also picked up a Best Documentary nod. Also making its debut in the race is Tunisia with The Man Who Sold His Skin from Kaouther Ben Hania. Meanwhile, previous Oscar nominee Thomas Vinterberg picked up his second International Feature nomination with Another Round, while also being named as one of the five contenders for Best Director — joining an elite, yet growing group of crossover filmmakers.
Romania’s nomination is particularly notable given that the omission of Cristian Mungiu’s 2007 Cannes Palme d’Or winner, 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days, sparked changes in how the category is voted upon. Nanau said today, “The best thing is it’s the first time that Romania gets nominated in over 30 years.”
The double mentions also demonstrate “the power of documentaries, and most of all of observational documentaries” with Collective “a cinematic tribute to victims and survivors of abuse of power as we see in so many societies around the world right now. Corruption and incompetence is a theme that endangers all our societies.”
Collective takes a look at the impact of investigative journalism and uncovers a staggering level of corruption in the wake of the 2015 fire at Bucharest’s Colectiv nightclub which left 27 dead and 180 injured. It became HBO Go’s most-watched program in the country within two weeks of release and encouraged a number of whistleblowers to come forward, Nanau says. The film has also touched Romania’s younger generation which “needs desperately to understand where the society is and whether they stay or have to leave; we have huge emigration and the film in a way is their film about the moment they decided they have to change the society that their parents built.”
Nanau says the reaction to today’s nominations was “overwhelming… The Academy shows that cinema can really connect us globally.” Magnolia has Collective domestically.
Also making a connection, Tunisia’s The Man Who Sold His Skin is the first film from the North African country to make the International Feature nominations cut, out of seven total submissions. Kaouther Ben Hania’s political thriller boasts “a fabulous style” resembling “that of a James Bond film shot by Roger Deakins,” Deadline’s Todd McCarthy recently wrote. The story focuses on a refugee who becomes a work of art and a media sensation when a visa is tattooed on his back and he’s placed in an art gallery.
Remarked Ben Hania of today’s nomination, “It’s historic for Tunisia which is a small country that we don’t think of as a hotbed of cinema.” She was especially pleased that voters were able to discover the film through the shortlist and “evidently a bit of word of mouth.” Because of the constraints set by Covid, the playing field was somewhat more level, Ben Hania said, echoing a sentiment we’ve heard throughout the season. “Maybe this is the year when other voices can pop out and be heard.”
The Man Who Sold His Skin debuted in Venice last year and is handled by Samuel Goldwyn Films domestically. It has yet to release in Tunisia, but the country today was “very proud,” Ben Hania told me. “They needed good news and I’m happy to give them some good news that may help lift morale.”
Another female director in the International Feature category who brought some good news home today is Jasmila Zbanic with Quo Vadis, Aida? A spotlight on the murder in 1995 by Bosnian Serb forces of more than 8,000 civilians ostensibly under United Nations supervision in Srebrenica focuses on a UN translator whose family is among the thousands of citizens looking for shelter in the camp when the Serbian army takes over the town.
Zbanic spent this morning with the Mothers of Srebrenica, an association of women “who had a destiny like Aida; they all lost sons and husbands… They are really proud this is happening with the film, that it’s traveling and people are hearing their story.” One today told Zbanic she had a dream the night before that Quo Vadis, Aida? would score a nomination and that she needn’t be nervous. “When I called her after, she said, ‘I told you!’”
In a way, the constraints of Covid have also benefited Quo Vadis, Aida? “In the part of Bosnia with a Serb majority, they didn’t allow the film to be shown in cinemas and in Srebrenica it didn’t get distribution because of political reasons,” Zbanic explained. But VOD “allowed us to have this break in censorship which is really interesting… Suddenly you can’t be afraid to watch it at home where nobody will see that you are watching. Although I really want this film to be seen in cinemas, I really appreciate this VOD possibility for people who wouldn’t have the possibility to see it otherwise.”
Overall, said Zbanic, “everyone is so happy you can’t imagine. Not many good things happen in Bosnia, people are very depressed so this is suddenly a lot of national happiness.” This is Bosnia’s second-ever nomination.
Meanwhile, in Denmark, Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round had folks raising glasses today. With Oscar nominations for Best International Feature and Best Director, Vinterberg today joined an elite, yet growing, group of overseas filmmakers to score simultaneous mentions in those categories.
Vinterberg has been to the Oscars before, nominated for what was then Best Foreign Language Film with 2012’s The Hunt, but a directing nomination today came as “a huge surprise… I don’t think we’ve tried that before in our humble kingdom of Denmark,” he marveled.
Another Round, which focuses on four weary high school teachers who test the theory that a constant level of modest inebriation opens our minds to the world, is “the film that I’ve made that means the most for me,” Vinterberg said. He lost his teenaged daughter in a car accident during shooting and noted, “we made this movie for her.” Of today’s nominations, he added, “She was the kind of girl who loved all this kind of thing, I feel she must be clapping her hands somewhere.”
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Another Round has been on an awards season trajectory for months. It was an official selection title for the 2020 Cannes Film Festival, swept the European Film Awards, won the Virtual Audience Award for Best Film at the London Film Festival and scooped France’s César for Foreign Film just last week. It also received a Golden Globe nomination and the Silver Shell for Best Actor in San Sebastian and was Denmark’s biggest film at the box office in 2020 and the market’s best-selling digital release. Denmark has a solid track record at the Oscars, with 10 nominations and three wins in the International Feature category. Samuel Goldwyn has domestic.
Also a box office hit, Hong Kong’s Better Days scored an International Feature nomination today — the first for the country since Chen Kaige’s 1993 Farewell My Concubine. The film, which was initially held back from release in China as part of a crackdown on potentially sensitive films, was ultimately released in late 2019 and went on to make over $220M. The youth drama focuses on issues of suicide, bullying and sexual abuse. Deadline’s Todd McCarhty in his review called it “an arresting teen-oriented story that cranks Chinese scholastic competitiveness into the realm of murderous melodrama.”
Director Derek Tsang today commented, “Thank you everyone who supported us along the journey and voted for our film. This is truly one of the greatest honors for a filmmaker and we are very grateful for this nomination, which I hope can bring more awareness of the issues we raised in the film. This validates our belief that a good story will always resonate across different countries and cultures. We are just super excited for our film to reach a wider audience.” Well Go USA has the movie domestically.