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They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

Early Look at Foreign Language Film Race

By J. Don Birnam

November 1, 2017

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Palestine: “Wajib” Could Be A Surprise Contender

In Palestine’s submission Wajib, the territory’s tenth, a son who has left Palestine for Europe travels around Nazareth with his father personally handing out wedding invitations for the sister’s nuptials. Along the way, the son and father deal with their conflicting views of the world, of life, and of Palestine specifically, while finding new ground in their unending personal didsputes.

The movie fits comfortably in that burgeoning new genre of liberal introspection, of critical analysis of the assumptions that progressive people make about themselves. It is a sincere and well-crafted and interesting movie, the third by Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir. She has yet to be nominated, and I am not sure of this one’s chances, but they appear as good as any.

Nomination Chances: 7

Poland: “Spoor” Is Too Genre-y, Too

You can forget about Poland’s submission Spoor, about a woman who is a devoted animal rights-activist (and naturist) as she deals with mysterious deaths surrounding her idyllic life in rural Poland. The story is a murder mystery, at times with supernatural insinuations that make it noir and moody like the submission of other countries outlined herein. But not only does it not carry weight as an issues movie, it simply does not convince as a suspense or drama either. You will not see this one anywhere near the finalists.

Nomination Chances: 1

Russia: “Loveless” Feels Like a Contender

Russia, after much speculation about the politics, has gone ahead and submitted the film by its most famous and accomplished director, Andrey Zvyagnitsev, who also directed 2014’s nominee Leviathan. Loveless, the name of his latest, may as well be his adjective for Mother Russia herself. The movie is about a divorcing couple dealing with the sudden disappearance of their son, and features one of the most emotionally devastating scenes I have seen in a movie this year.

More broadly, the movie is an allegory for everything that is wrong with Russia as a nation today, from an emotional, personal perspective. It is subtly but decisively and effectively critical of the path the country is on, without every deviating ever for a second from the fictionalized tale. It is, to many, a miracle that the Russian government went ahead and submitted this highly critical film.

It is very depressing but very good, and I hope it makes it to the final five.

Nomination Chances: 9




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Sweden: “The Square” May Mean Nod For Former Miss

Last but not least is my personal favorite of the ones I have seen so far this year, Sweden’s The Square, by the director of the shortlisted Force Majeure (and one other Swedish submission), the movie won the prestigious Palme D’Or at Cannes, which pretty much guarantees it a spot at least in the final nine.

The movie centers around an uber-modern museum director whose nice liberal elite world is upended when his cellphone is stolen in Stockholm and he takes matters into his own hands, with amusing consequences. Like Haneke’s Amour, this movie fits in that 2016-2017 genre of films about privileged people who are supposedly smart and admirable but who are in reality craven and ridiculous. It is a satire, critical, and entertaining. It has very strange moments meant as allegories, but it all sort of combines together to produce an amusing and thoughtful narrative about modern society and how we perceive ourselves. Boasting of two Americans in the cast, Dominic West and Elizabeth Moss, that could also help with the nominating committee. I will be surprised if this does not make some cut.

Nomination Chances: 9

Up Next: A State of the Race Analysis with our First Trackers of the Season


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