By Mark Olsen
11:03 AM PST, January 17, 2014
In some ways, nothing speaks to the global impact of the Academy Awards quite like the international response to the nominations for best foreign language film.
The five nominees in the category are Belgium’s “The Broken Circle Breakdown,” Cambodia’s “The Missing Picture,” Denmark’s “The Hunt,” Italy’s “The Great Beauty” and the Palestinian film “Omar.” The final five were selected from a shortlist of nine films that had been whittled down from 76 submissions.
Reached Thursday after the announcement, Felix Van Groeningen, director of the “The Broken Circle Breakdown,” was in a car in Brussels alongside actress Veerle Baetens, heading for a news conference that would be seen on national television.
“This is big news here, man!” Groeningen said. “The country is going crazy.”
The film, based on a stage play, follows a couple as their young daughter battles leukemia. The story is set against a world of bluegrass music, punctuated by musical performances.
“There’s just so much that people responded to,” Groeningen said of the film’s mix of homespun music, romance and heart-tugging melodrama. “The emotional point of the story is so big, the tragedy these people go through and their cathartic response in the end.”
The nomination for Hany Abu-Assad’s “Omar” is the second for a Palestinian film, following the nomination for the director’s “Paradise Now” in 2006.
“It’s very important for Palestine,” Abu-Assad said on Thursday from Los Angeles, “because the more the Palestinians have recognition, the more there will be peace in the Middle East. This is a fact.”
The film is a gripping thriller in which a young Palestinian man implicated in the murder of an Israeli soldier is drawn into a web of deception and intrigue. However, Abu-Assad said he sees the film as about more than just the conflict between Palestinians and Israel.
“I think the conflict will end, whether next year or five years from now or 10 years from now,” Abu-Assad said. “But you want to make a movie that survives the conflict, after 20 years or 100 years still seems a good movie. This is why I think really the film is not about the conflict, it’s really about love, friendship, and betrayal and about the genre thriller. There are three combinations of thriller, the American thriller combined with the French thriller and the Egyptian one. It’s a movie also about cinema.”
Italy’s “The Great Beauty” is the story of a once-promising writer (played by Toni Servillo) looking back on the dissolute shell his life has become, told with a lush style of exuberant visual flourish. Director Paolo Sorrentino was in Los Angeles when the nominations were announced on Thursday morning, having won the Golden Globe for foreign language film on Sunday night. (A previous collaboration between Sorrentino and Servillo, “Il Divo,” was nominated for an Oscar for best makeup in 2010.)
Sorrentino noted how the recognition of the Oscar nomination brought a spotlight to more than just his film.
“It’s very important also for the Italian cinema,” he said. “Sometimes in our country, people don’t speak too well about Italian cinema, and this thing is very important for all of Italian cinema too. There is a long connection between Italy and the Academy Awards, for Fellini and Benigni, and they are all very excited.
“I love the idea that this is a simple movie about human nature and about how hard it is to live in contemporary society. American audiences have a strong feeling toward Italian cinema and contemporary Italian society.”
Cambodia’s entry, “The Missing Picture,” is a documentary directed by Rithy Panh. He uses hand-carved and hand-painted clay figurines as a key part of examining the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, mixed with archival footage and personal recollection.
In an emailed statement, Panh said, “I am very, very happy for Cambodia and for the young generation. This film is a bridge between the past and the present and will open dialogue between generations. And beyond this I hope that it will pave the way to more forms of expression and more creativity.”
Denmark’s “The Hunt” stars Mads Mikkelsen (currently TV’s “Hannibal”) as a teacher wrongly accused of abusing a little girl. Director Thomas Vinterberg, on the phone from “Copenhagen-town” on Thursday, said he was particularly excited that the film’s themes were resonating with audiences beyond the borders of his home country.
“To see the profoundly moved faces that we saw when we showed the film in Los Angeles and New York was just a great satisfaction,” he said.
“Despite the very dark issue that is the spine of the film, I think that the friendship and the love among the characters in the film is what moves people,” Vinterberg added. “These are characters reaching out to each other, trying to lead the lives they lived before, and somehow that movies the audience.”
Vinterberg was president of the Un Certain Regard jury at the Cannes Film Festival last year that gave prizes to “The Missing Picture” and “Omar.” He said he was pleased to hear they were nominated for the Oscar along with his film and declared them “very strong contenders.”
The films nominated in the academy’s foreign language film category all bring the world a little closer to home.
“It’s always good to see movies from different points of view,” said Abu-Assad. “Actually, the power of movies is that it can show you the same topic but from a different point of view.”
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