Nine films were on the short list for the coveted Academy Awards Foreign Language title at the end of last year: Some are well known (COLD WAR, CAPERNAUM, SHOPLIFTERS) but AYKA comes from a country where there is hardly any structure let alone financing available for filmmakers, so Kazakhstan’s entry should be particularly applauded.
Denmark: The Guilty (Gustav Möller)
Möller’s feature debut premiered at Sundance in January 2018, winning the audience award in the world cinema dramatic competition. The entire film takes place in the claustrophobic confines of a Copenhagen emergency services station, where a former police officer (Jakob Cedergren) has to deal with gruelling telephone calls from a kidnapped woman.
Germany: Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
von Donnersmarck is very well thought of in German cinema circles and has a previously won in the category back in 2007 for his Cold War spy thriller The Lives Of Others. His latest sees an art student involved in a difficult situation at his college. We reviewed the film at Venice where it premiered in August 2018.
Poland: Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski)
Pawlikowski’s film opened in Cannes Competition in 2018 and won him a best director prize. Searingly beautiful, it chronicles a love story between two people from different walks of life, set against the backdrop of the Cold War in the 1950s in various cities in Europe. Pawlikowski has previously won this award back in 2015 for his war-themed drama Ida – but his multi-faceted films have been arthouse staples since he started out in the 1980s with his TV fare (Open Space and From Moscow to Pietuschki in 1990), his first feature was The Stringer (1998).
Colombia: Birds Of Passage (Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra)
An arthouse title that explores the narco-trafficking industry and its profound effects on Columbian society. Gallego and Guerra’s film opened Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 2018 but their breakout success was with Embrace Of The Serpent (with Guerra directing, Gallego producing).
WINNER ACADEMY AWARDS 2019
Cuarón’s latest is a semi-autobiographical take on his own Mexico City upbringing, focusing on a middle-class family and their live-in housekeeper. With so many interesting stories coming out of Mexico, this is Cuarón’s first nomination in the category, although he has been nominated for six Oscars previously, winning best director and best editing for Gravity in 2014.
Japan: Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
Kore-eda’s cheeky story of a family living on on its uppers won the Palme d’Or in 2018.
Kazakhstan: Ayka (Sergey Dvortsevoy)
Living in abject poverty in Moscow, a young Kyrgyz woman tries to survive after abandoning her newborn, to return to her job. It premiered in the official Competition at Cannes in 2018.
Lebanon: Capernaüm (Nadine Labaki)
After her lively social drama Caramel, Labaki’s Cannes 2018 Competition entry is a more heavyweight but enjoyable story for its humanity and insight. Shot on the streets of Beirut using non-professional actors, the story follows the fate of a precocious but endearing 12 year-old boy who takes his parents to court.
South Korea: Burning (Lee Chang-dong)
Lee’s Cannes Competition title was the favourite amongst the critics at Cannes last year. It’s a psychological thriller but also a subtle love story based on Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning.
THE AWARDS TOOK PLACE in Los Angeles on 24 February 2019