Thursday, January 21, 2010

Foreign Language Film: A Solution?

Just earlier today I blogged about the Academy's nine finalists for the Best Foreign Language Film category, whittled down by a devoted bunch of Academy members who watched all 65 submitted films. However, while titles such as The White Ribbon and Un Prophete got people excited, as is the case every year, that small shortlist excluded several submitted titles that had prominence with film followers. Corneliu Porumboiu's Police, Adjective (Romania), Bong Joon-ho's Mother (South Korea) and Asghar Farhadi's About Elly (Iran) being prime examples.

And then there is the even longer list of big foreign language titles that weren't even submitted. How about The Maid (Chile), Broken Embraces (Spain), Sin Nombre (Mexico), Summer Hours (France) and Il Divo (Italy). Countries such as France always have a tricky time selecting a title because they always an overflowing abundance of quality titles. Sometimes they choose something left-of-centre and it doesn't pan out (submitting Persepolis as opposed to the much more Academy-friendly La Vie en Rose) and sometimes they choose critical darlings like this year's Un Prophete and they get the recognition they (apparently) deserve.

Like clockwork though, each and every year people complain about how the Academy handles this category. Nobody seems to like that countries are only allowed to submit one movie when, as I just explained, some countries have multiple titles a year that warrant a nomination. I imagine, however, that these people would be the first people to complain if France took up four the five nominations.

I definitely think the branch has issues, but what can they do? I like that movies without American distribution can be nominated and find themselves being hunted by distributors as opposed to the branch just nominating the five highest profile foreign films of the year, as some people would like, purely because they've seen them. Taking Australia's submission, Samson & Delilah, as an example you have a movie that, if nominated, would most definitely find itself receiving an American distribution deal. Or, if not that, at least DVD. Without it it hasn't a paddle in the rising stream of international distribution.

Then again, limiting the category to only films that received an American release - a release that makes it eligible for all other categories from Best Picture to Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography - isn't a positive thing for the maligned category either. It's unfair to countries that are producing cinema that struggles to receive an American release. If that were to happen the category would be filled with renowned auteurs year-in-year-out, and while that might be good for award watchers, it's not good for film lovers.

I've thought for several years now though that the real solution to this category is to take a little of column a and a little from column b. Yes, definitely keep the one-film-per-country submission part since that list is so vital and is a fascinating look at foreign cinema. Even keep the shortlist idea, reducing the list down to a manageable number like this year's nine. Doing so will eliminate some worthy contenders, sure, but they were never going to be nominated anyway so why not just cut them and get it over with.

I do, however, think that the foreign language branch who then have to nominate five titles from that shortlist for the big nomination should be allowed to also nominate any foreign language film that received an American release. Sort of like an old-fashioned write-in vote that used to happen occasionally. That way Foreign Language Branch Member Joe Bloggs could place the films from Australia, Germany and Israel on his ballot, but also place Summer Hours and The Maid on there. Obviously it would need to be finessed and tweaked to make sure that it works, but I don't see why it wouldn't. The members of the branch have no say in what movies get submitted so they could all think Sin Nombre is the best of the year, but have no choice but to forget it exists. And yet if they were allowed to still put it on their ballot due to it's American release means that they can still vote for it.

Does any of this make sense? Basically what it boils down to is that they get to keep the one-film-per-country idea and the five nominees could very well come strictly from that list in any given year, but it also allows films that achieved the same eligibility criteria for other categories - a one-week release in Los Angeles - to receive a nomination if the branch sees fit. It seems like a win-win situation to me since it would allow movies that nobody has ever heard of before to compete side-by-side with movies that don't need such a citation to get American distribution. Restrict the category to two nominations for any given country - we don't need France hogging the category every year - and we'd have a solution that pleases all.

Or perhaps not. What do you think?

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