Booker Prize awarded, Mercury Prize on its way, the time of year is upon us when industries line-up the envelopes and hand-out the free champagne (….and often vice-versa). The film industry loves dishing out the trophies more than most, and next year’s Chris Rock presented Academy Awards will trump all before it by most measurements, even if the current betting odds suggest a wider field than usual. There will soon happen the coalescence of opinion behind names, titles, figureheads, so prepare yourself for the post-award “missed opportunities” chat fans of “Inside Out”, we all know what you want, and it’s not happening.
What is happening, for the third year in a row, so I must be doing something right, is the swift eyeing-up of submitted entries for that ever maligned Academy Award staple: the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Fans of blue moons might like to know that, yes, the United Kingdom has an offering this year in the shape of Welsh-language Under Milk Wood, a thoroughly bonkers take of a famously unhinged text (remaining as a set-text across Welsh schools). In my hazy foggy memory, I recall taking one attempt at enjoying the tale of “Llarreggub” without much success, although that was before the days when Cerys Matthews would breathe softly into her 6Music microphone with a particularly saucy rendition, so maybe there’s room for me to be impressed yet. Whether the UK will get anywhere in Oscar-land with this version is doubtful, though I would hope that this submission means we’re still able to provide funding for minority language arts in this country. More, please.
Documentaries are eligible for this category with two takes on a similar, sadly depressing, theme taking my eye from this year’s longlist. Iraqi-Swiss filmmaker “Samir” (he avoids using his religious-based surname) helms Iraqi Odyssey, a deeply personal documentary casting a net from Baghdad to the numerous global cities where his family now calls home. Through the numerous, and seemingly never-ending conflicts in Iraq, the once proud population soon spread themselves across the globe; this ‘odyssey’ is covered by interviews and archive footage contrasting the past, the future, and the sense of a future denied.
By way of a tonal contrast of sorts, The Wanted 18 submitted by Palestine explores that region’s own conflicts in a much more esoteric fashion. Partly animated and re-enacted, this true story of how eighteen diary cows were hidden from Israeli security forces magnifies the surreal heart of the tragic reality of the Middle East conflict. The core element of the story may be one of constant battles, but its overall story has such humour that it appears impossible not to be charmed by Canadian Paul Cowan and Palestinian Amer Shomali’s work.
Conflict of a similar kind – drawing on historic borders, historic language, historic resentment – probably stopped Spain from ever submitting an entry in the Basque language. Indeed it took some time to find a YouTube trailer of Loreak not dubbed into Spanish, something of a reminder of the cultural friction between the country of Spain and the unsettled region of the Basque peoples. To this writer’s eyes, Flowers as it’s translated, hardly hides its analogy of discomfort and directionless behind the story of a woman receiving bouquets from an anonymous source, and the conflict which draws from her need to find her true destiny. It’s somewhat bleak and shadowy in its trailer, though there’s enough strong women to bring Pedro Almodóvar to mind, and that’s hardly a bad thing, now, is it?
There are some countries on which you can often rely for suggestions when running your fingers along the World Cinema section at HMV/on Netflix. This year, they have submitted something of a pic-n-mix. Japan does not impress this writer much with 100 Yen Love, which appears to be a darkly comic tale on a young woman slacking at home wasting her life when suddenly it becomes a version of every ‘turn your life around the easy way’ rags to riches tale you’ve ever ho-hummed over.
Goodbye Mr Tumor is not the kind of title I’d expect from a film outside High School biology class (and even then not outside an episode from Series 6 of The Simpsons). The full 2-hours of China’s submission is on-line if you fancy giving your Mandarin a good airing, I stuck with the trailer and cannot make head-nor-tail of any of it. Warning, the first two-minutes of that link is a trailer, the remaining two-minutes appears to be spoiler-tastic spoiler-ness of the most spoiler-ific kind. If you’re in need of that sort of heads up.
France used to be a safe-bet for shortlisting; they’ve gone for Turkish coming-of-age drama and it’s not doing anything for me. The Italians seem to have gone for a full-colour La Haine which has a certain charm, whilst from India comes a beguiling and deeply peculiar looking court-room drama with unusually slow and languid editing.
I cannot leave this article without mentioning Thailand, even if it does come across as a forced in-joke. It’s my article, I’m going to keep pushing this. Two years ago their entry slapped me around the face with a long-haired drug dealing Jesus inflicting torture on teenagers in a bath. Last year they went safe with a goofy romcom about a teacher. For this time around How To Win at Checkers (Every Time) firmly sets its stall as much as any mainstream Hollywood film possibly could for Academy attention: two brothers in sibling rivalry torn apart by an army draft, full of family tensions and road-trip soul searching. It’s bound to do well, isn’t it? Here’s my one hope for shortlisting above all others, with so many boxes ticked it surely can’t go unnoticed.