The Polish film "Ida" won the Oscar for foreign-language film on Sunday night. In a spirited speech, writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski barreled right past the swelling music playing him off to continue his heartfelt thank-yous, earning a swell of applause from the audience.
"How did I get here?" Pawlikowski said. "We made a film about black-and-white, the need for silence and withdrawal from the world and contemplation. And here we are at the center of noise and world attention. Fantastic. Life is full of surprises."
"Ida" is set in the early 1960s, as a young woman about to become a Catholic nun is sent to meet her only relative before taking her vows. Meeting her aunt, she soon learns her family history is not what she believed. Shot in black-and-white with an air of deadpan stillness, the film is about how people are shaped by history even as they have the power to take charge of their own future.
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Though born in Poland, Pawlikowski previously made films outside his native country, including “My Summer of Love,” which introduced many people to the actress Emily Blunt. “Ida” is his first feature made in Poland and in the Polish language. The film won four prizes at the European Film Awards, including best film and director, and on Saturday it also won the international film award at the
Though the category always brings together five films from five separate countries, this year's foreign-language competition saw a particularly diverse array of films nominated. In some ways it seemed especially a shame to place these films – representing Poland, Russia, Argentina, Mauritania and Estonia – in competition against one another at all.
Many were surprised that "Leviathan" was even entered into competition at the Academy Awards, as the Russian film -- partially financed with state funds -- is widely seen as critical of the ruling Putin regime. In reconfiguring the biblical book of Job, a small-town mechanic fights state and religious power to hold onto family land that is being annexed. Written and directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, the film won the best screenplay prize when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. It also picked up the Golden Globe for foreign-language film.
The most upbeat film of this year's nominees was Argentina's "Wild Tales," written and directed by Damian Szifron. Many awards-watchers felt an undercurrent of enthusiasm for the film among Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters might make it a surprise winner. (Being distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, a powerhouse in this category and also the distributor of "Leviathan," was also seen as a plus.) The film is a darkly comic anthology of six vignettes centered around revenge.
This was the first Oscar nomination for both Mauritania and Estonia.
Though the film remains little-seen here in the U.S., "Timbuktu" recently won seven prizes at France's Cesar awards, including best film and director for Abderrahmane Sissako. The Mauritanian film is set in the titular historic city in Mali in 2012, as problems big and small, personal and political, are explored against the backdrop of jihadists taking over the city to impose their rule.
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"Tangerines" is arguably one of the biggest surprises of the awards season, as it was essentially unknown on the international festival circuit ahead of its nominations for the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. Written and directed by Zaza Urushadze, the Estonian film is set during a civil war in the early 1990s, as two farmers refuse to evacuate their village ahead of an upcoming harvest, putting them face-to-face with both sides of the conflict. The film was also recently picked up for distribution in the U.S. by Samuel Goldwyn Films.