Signs of life for foreign-language films in the U.S.

Though it has become axiomatic over the last few years that the audience for foreign-language films has been shrinking in America as superheroes dominate the box office, there have been a few recent signs of new life.

Earlier this year the Iranian film “A Separation” was nominated for an Oscar not only in the foreign-language category (which it would go on to win) but also for its screenplay, where it competed against the likes of “Bridesmaids,” pushing the film out from the margins of the art house.

And though “The Intouchables” has not been quite the same runaway smash it was in its native France and other countries, the nearly $13 million it has made at the U.S. box office since its release in May shows that the niche for foreign language films still holds more potential than conventional wisdom might allow.

In the upcoming weeks, Jacques Audiard’s “Rust and Bone,” opening in Los Angeles on Dec. 7, and Michael Haneke’s “Amour,” opening Dec. 19, seem poised to ride a wave of buzz and accolades to a broader audience.


Audiard recently described his film, starring Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts, as “a contemporary melodrama” about a man and a woman on the financial fringes. They find each other right when each needs the other most, a brain and a body coming together, united by the heart.

Cotillard, an Oscar-winner for her role as Edith Piaf in “La vie en rose” and who has lately been making inroads with mainstream audiences in blockbusters such as “The Dark Knight Rises,” has already been garnering awards momentum for her performance as a whale trainer who loses her legs in an accident. Though there is extensive but unintrusive visual effects work done throughout the film to make it appear the actress no longer has legs, Audiard allowed simply that “the special effect is Marion Cotillard.”

Filmmaker Haneke (“The White Ribbon,” “Funny Games”) has for many years now been considered among the top filmmakers in the world. His new film, “Amour,” picked up the Palm d’Or earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival for its bracing, unblinking portrayal of an aging couple at the end of life, with heartfelt performances from Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant.

Isabelle Huppert’s role as the couple’s daughter makes for her third collaboration with Haneke. The notoriously prickly actress becomes downright warm when speaking of the filmmaker.


“Michael, he’s very different from what people imagine he is,” Huppert said recently. “Mysterious and dark and things like this, no. He’s very alive.

“He knows what he wants,” she added. “It’s cold in a way, but in a good way. You do it until you get it.”

Among other foreign-language films opening soon is another French film, Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors,” easily one of the most buzzed-about titles of the year, a convulsive phantasm that touches on the history and future of cinema as it also explores the act of role-playing in everyday life.

Also coming to local theaters by the end of the year is Christian Petzold’s gripping Cold War drama “Barbara,” set in East Germany.

“At some point movies go beyond the local, sociopolitical description of their own environment and they go somewhere else,” said Huppert of cinema’s universality. “It doesn’t have any borders.”


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