Ranked: Every Foreign Language Film Submitted for 91st Academy Awards
14. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts | Indonesia | Mouly Surya
An Indonesian version of ‘I Spit on your grave’ with a lead character as bad-ass as Bride. A western genre mixed with revenge drama is split into four acts that are crafted with assured confidence. The score – reminiscent of Ennio Morricone’s score in Sergio Leone’s films is blended with electronic music, and frequent panoramic view photography puts you in the middle of the action. You can read the complete review of the film here.
13. The Guilty | Country: Denmark | Gustav Möller
The Guilty is a taut, well crafted, low budget tense thriller that takes place inside a closed police- emergency help centre. Unlike the other single location films that succumb to the psychical tension of limited and confined space without any substance to it, ‘The Guilty’ works because of the emotional deft that the well fleshed out characters have.
The film reveals itself as an aural mystery in the mind of its audiences. It puts you in the seat of the lead protagonist, Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren), and his mind, and without showing the action on the other end of the call. It’s like Steven Knight’s under-rated masterpiece ‘Locke’ with more cognitive tension on its surface with an underlying story of an officer who confronts his demon as a kidnapped caller finds herself in a life threating circumstances. You can read the complete review of the film here.
12. A Twelve-Year Night | Country: Uraguay | Álvaro Brechner
A Twelve-Year Night, inspired by the true events and based on the book “Memorias del Calabozo” by Mauricio Rosencof and Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro, who, along with José “Pepe” Múgica, were imprisoned in solitary confinement. They were on the constant move and spent 12 years in forty jails during the military dictatorship that ruled Uruguay starting from 1973. The film captures the horror of atrocious behaviour and psychological trauma inflicted on the three Uruguayan political radicals.
One of the Military officers passes a brutal remark, “We should have killed them at the time; now we’re going to drive them insane,” and the film stands true to the word for portraying it. They were robbed of their basic human rights by refusing them of minimum amenities like the books, newspaper, toiletries and fresh food, and left to rot in their cells. They were not allowed to speak to anyone or go out in the open space thus traumatising them within the confinement of the walls and lack of human connection.
11. The Great Buddha | Country: Taiwan | Huang Hsin-yao
The Great Buddha has an absurd idiosyncratic tone throughout the film that is wildly funny and tragic, and the ingenious concept of narrating the bleak and universal story of nobodies finds humour in tragedy. The idiosyncrasies find a way for sharp criticism and nuanced detailing of the social indifferences plaguing Taiwanese population. Be it the name of two nobodies, ‘Bellybutton’ and ‘Pickle’, their friend ‘Peanut’, or the English name of Pickle’s boss, Kevin which he got to adopt due to his ascribed and master status, finds humour and social prejudices in the names as well.
‘The Great Buddha’ finds a wholly original voice in the found footage genre when two nobodies watch car dash-cam video to kill their time while guarding a Buddha statue. How the course of their lives change when they hear a loud noise and find out that it was not moaning sound of intercourse which they initially thought. Brazen-faced commentary by the director himself, often breaking the fourth wall, is mixed with a scathing critical eye for class difference and obscenities. Alternating the shots between dreary black and white and glimmering colours on found footage, the camera work by Nagao Nakashima is undeniably and inarguably the highlight of the film.
10. Eldorado | Country: Switzerland | Markus Imhoof
Many Spanish conquistadors trekked deep into South American forests to discover Eldorado, the mythical lost city of gold. The wishful thinking of discovering this gold-coated paradise gobbled lots of lives. In Markus Imhoof’s hard-hitting documentary Eldorado (2018), we see desperate souls reaching the calm shores of southern Italy to escape from purgatory, a wishful thinking that often doesn’t come true.
Eldorado comes across as a fitting companion piece to Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire at Sea (2016). Rosi juxtaposed microscopic, a personal viewpoint of a boy inhabiting a peaceful coastal town with the macroscopic perspective of emaciated asylum seekers crossing into Italy to start anew (few nautical miles from the boy’s hometown). Similarly, Eldorado flits between micro and macro views, elegantly stitching up the film-maker’s private recollections of WWII memories with the twisted economics of EU refugee crisis. Eldorado is a multifaceted and deeply humane documentary on the ugly realities and moral bankruptcy at the forefront of the refugee crisis.
9. The Cakemaker | Country: Israel | Ofir Raul Grazier
Just like dough, the characters in Ofir Raul Grazier’s impressive debut film ‘The Cakemaker’ are both – delicate and tender, in dire need of love and warmth. The two leading characters, a German cakemaker and an Israel woman, look so frail, lost and broken in their shared grief for the same man they loved that you want to hug them and comfort them. Ofir draws two beautifully written characters in the novelistic narrative that is smartly structured and minutely nuanced.
Unhurried in its pacing, ‘The Cakemaker’ is kinder towards handling the grief than delving into unsettling sombre tone as if life has come to stand still, and still, it retains emotional naturalism to move its audience in a way that you admire their courage for rebuilding themselves than pity them. The minimalistic production design in the interiors coupled with muted photography helps to capture the intricate details of the ongoing emotional state of the characters and their dynamics whenever they are together.
8. Border | Country: Sweden | Ali Abbasi
‘Border’ is a thought-provoking and equally potent allegorical drama that examines the most pertinent question on how and where you draw the line for different race and caste people who find themselves misfit in the non-indigenous community. As strange as others perceive those misfits in their society, the daunting feeling of displacement often makes a person more aware or push them on the edge of madness. Border tackles both the conundrums and examines the moral inclination of a character upon realisation of individual’s origin.
‘Border’ is an unnerving and tender romantic drama about a strange looking woman who could sniffle the emotions on you. Subversive and restrained in its narration, the film strikes a right balance between social realism and personal conflicts.