I love the Best International Feature category (formerly Best Foreign Language Film) because it's one of the categories that gets to spotlight films that truly need it in this country. It's also the category that sometimes nominates more daring cinema. Films nominated for this award have included Yorgos Lanthimos' DOGTOOTH, Ciro Guerra's EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT, Ildikó Enyedi's ON BODY AND SOUL, Ari Folman's WALTZ WITH BASHIR, Rithy Panh's THE MISSING PICTURE, and numerous others that are the definition of unconventional. And thus, it's always exciting to pay attention to what gets shortlisted and nominated..
Every year for the past while, the Academy releases a shortlist of films (now 10, formerly 9) that advance to the next stage in the process. From the 10, 5 will be nominated. Of this year's films, five have been released domestically, with the other four on the way. Only Estonia's TRUTH AND JUSTICE has yet to secure distribution.
Here are my thoughts on the shortlisted films:
ATLANTICS (Dir. Mati Diop, Senegal) - Mati Diop's seductive and highly original Cannes Grand Prix-winner, ATLANTICS, fuses a modern-day tale of the refugee crisis with ghosts. Lensed with electric color by Claire Mathon and told with a real clarity of vision, ATLANTICS announces the arrival of an exciting new talent in Mati Diop.
BEANPOLE (Dir. Kantemir Balagov, Russia) - Like THOSE WHO REMAINED (discussed below), Kantemir Balagov's Cannes award-winning BEANPOLE takes a fresh perspective on life post-WWII, in this case, PTSD-affected Russian women living in Stalingrad. Claustrophobic and masterfully-directed, BEANPOLE is the work of a prodigiously talented filmmaker who elicited stunning performances out of his cast of non-actors.
CORPUS CHRISTI (Dir. Jan Komasa, Poland) -- A thoughtful, non-didactic critique of the Catholic Church, Jan Komasa's CORPUS CHRISTI is fueled by an impassioned performance by Bartosz Bielenia and a final act that's as provocative as it is wild.
HONEYLAND (Dirs. Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, North Macedonia) - HONEYLAND was featured on my "Best Documentaries of 2019" article and will also be featured in my article on the Best Documentary Feature shortlist. This is an environmental fable that calmly asks us to be respectful to our world and follows an incredible subject in Macedonian beekeeper Hatidze.
LES MISÉRABLES (Dir. Ladj Ly, France) - Hard-hitting and timely, Ladj Ly's Cannes Jury Prize-winner, LES MISÉRABLES, details the tensions between a group of Parisian cops and ordinary citizens. Shot with a gritty, documentary-like feel, LES MISÉRABLES has an effect similar to being held in a chokehold due to its unrelenting intensity.
PAIN AND GLORY (Dir. Pedro Almodóvar, Spain) -- World-renowned auteur Pedro Almodóvar makes his most personal film yet with PAIN AND GLORY, which tells the story of an aging gay film director who comes to terms with his life. Featuring Antonio Banderas at his peak (he won the Cannes Best Actor Award this past year), this is the work of a self-realized filmmaker that is tender, honest, and poignant. PAIN AND GLORY becomes richer with every viewing.
THE PAINTED BIRD (Dir. Vaclav Marhoul, Czech Republic) -- This 169-minute Holocaust epic follows a young boy who is sent away to live with his aunt during WWII, only to go through a series of horrific circumstances as he struggles to survive after her untimely death. Using immaculate black-and-white cinematography and an epic scale to tell this intimate story, THE PAINTED BIRD's impact is occasionally dulled by its length but lands due to its strong performances and powerful finale.
PARASITE (Dir. Bong Joon-ho, South Korea) - Palme d'Or-winner PARASITE is my favorite film of 2019 and one of the best of the entire decade. A masterwork of social commentary that seamlessly slips between genres.
THOSE WHO REMAINED (Dir. Barnabás Tóth, Hungary) - This lovely little film about two Holocaust survivors who bond over their shared loss and find comfort in each other is uniquely sensitive and good-hearted. Making the most of a small budget, Barnabás Tóth tells his story economically and with and a complete lack of sentimentality, rendering it all the more effective.
TRUTH AND JUSTICE (Dir. Tanel Toom, Estonia) - Gorgeously shot and exceedingly well-acted, Oscar-nominee Tanel Toom's epic about one man's struggle to make his land thrive over the course of a large span of time.