Ranked: Every Foreign Language Film Submitted for 91st Academy Awards
7. Dogman | Country: Italy |Matteo Garrone
Matteo Garrone’s ‘Dogman’ is a story of love and tragedy in the life of an ordinary man. The ordinary man caught between the love of his life, his only child, and a local gangster who embroils him in carrying out petty crimes. It’s a gritty drama set in the rural ruins where Marcello (Marcello Fonte) is pushed to the lowest abyss of meekness and desolation. It’s a gradual breakdown of a common man’s conscience.
Marcello Fonte mellow performance lifts the weaker patch of the narrative and makes it intriguing solely with his eccentricities. He brings the charm and beta-male vulnerability to his character effortlessly. His transition from growling puppet to a great Dane is heroic but within the emotional realm of practicality.
6. I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians | Country: Romania | Radu Jude
“I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” is a smart, tricky, sarcastic, provocative and often ironically funny. The meta is three dimensional here. Layered like an onion, the film is an audacious, unadulterated look at the most debatable history chapter of 1941 Odessa Massacre in Romania, it also chronicles the struggle a filmmaker faces to make a film in general and on historical events that might not please the government.
Did Radu Jude just sketch a lead protagonist reflecting his consciousness? Damn, yes. He did. Did he just convey that the Romanian army was barbaric and equally involved in the Holocaust, burning thousands of Jews? Damn, yes. Did he just made fun of censorship in Romania, and mocked them and ridiculed them? Yes, yes. Yes.
Recommended – I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians : TIFF Review – ‘Critique of Pure Reason’
5. Cold War | Country: Poland | Paweł Pawlikowski
Cold War, loosely inspired by Pawlikowski’s parents’ lives, is an achingly beautiful romantic tragedy of a jazz-loving pianist and a young, nonchalant and fearless girl in the backdrop of the 1950s Cold War in Poland. Cold War is aesthetically a superior and one of the most beautiful films in recent times. The cinematography of the Cold War is a language in itself that supersedes the narrative than assists it.
Cinematographer Lukasz Zal, earlier worked on Pawlikowski’s Best Foreign Language winning film Ida, layers every frame with an emotional depth that keeps flickering in its contrast and movements to convey the dynamics between the lovers. In spite of such controlled camera work, the romantic drama feels emotionally cold and underwhelming. It feels more dramatic due to its abrupt forward jump editing than organic, due to which the climax feels not well earned than what it intended to be. Nonetheless, it is a great film to look at and songs are too invigorating to move even a cold person.
4. The Heiresses | Country: Paraguay | Marcelo Martinessi
Driven by an incredibly heartfelt and the tour de force performance of Ana Brun, The Heiresses is an original and piercing romantic drama in the lives of the Quinquagenarian women amidst the financial crisis that has hit them hard. Chela’s (played gracefully by Ana) personal and social life comes crumbling down after the incarceration of her lover due to bank debt.
Swallowing their fluffed pride and pressing their egos, Chiquita (played badassery by Margarita Irún) sells their most valuable and inherited possessions in the agreement with Chela. With every item going off the shelf from their lavish home, Chela’s reluctance to provide the cab service to a group of elderly wealthy ladies starts to wither off. It is during this service she encounters a young woman who invigorates the shrivelled feeling of romance, taking her by storm.
The absence of Chiquita gives Chela an opportunity to self-explore and introspect her life that was primarily governed by Chiquita. Film-maker Marcelo Martinessi never provides an easy answer. Like the lead character searching for the true meaning of love, we are left in the middle of a crisis these characters are facing to understand them and decipher their feelings.
3. Roma | Country: Mexico | Alfonso Cuarón
Roma is a staggering achievement in narrating the most intimate and personal work of Alfonso Cuarón. The film feels like reading the most vivid and eloquently written chapters from a personal diary of an exuberant child. Brought up by a devoted woman (first-time actress Yalitza Aparicio) who is nanny and housekeeper, it’s a Cuaron’s love letter to all the nannies out there, who bring up the kids as their own. It’s tragic to find her lonely when the entire family is around her and depends on everything.
Roma is a heartfelt story of two women belonging to different social and financial strata struggling to keep together midst of personal tragedy and emotional turmoil and political uprising. The most noticeable thing – which I am sure Cuaron did out of respect – was that the camera never intrudes in the personal lives of the characters. Shot in 65 mm and glorious black and white, Cuarón let the camera glide inside the house as if it’s a character, keenly observing the family dynamics and piecing together their quotidian lives. It’s lyrical and heart-breaking.
2. Burning | Country: Korea | Lee Chang-dong
The elliptical orbit of mysterious aura and puzzling nature of an individual is patiently explored in Burning, an adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning, except that it is set in Korea. Three distinctive characters intersect in this slow-burning psychological drama that examines the class conflict and tensive interpersonal dynamics emerging from brewing rage, sexual longing and animosity that culminates in a queasy bone-chilling climax.
Burning is a stunning opaque story riddle with the ambiguous enigmas and uncertain turn of events. It’s a well crafted and stunningly muted cinematographed film with absolute control on its writing, displayed in the powerful characterization and a well-earned climax that you won’t see coming from five hundred miles.
Must-Read – Burning : ‘NYFF’ Review – A stunning, opaque story riddled with the ambiguous enigmas
1. Shoplifters | Country: Japan | Hirokazu Kore-eda
After slightly diverting from his comfort zone by delivering a slow-burning thriller in 2017, the Japanese master of familial dramas is back with Shoplifters. Soothing, understated and so emotionally moving that you wouldn’t even notice when tears stream down your face, the newest film by Hirokazu Kore-eda is a humanist masterpiece. Having explored how true fatherhood doesn’t just involve a blood relation in his 2013 film “Like Father Like Son”, Kore-eda takes up the tough job of humanizing a bunch of misfit thieves by questioning the very essence of what makes a family.
In doing so, he dwells his naturalistic, heart-warming narrative structure in one of his finest, most deceptive and heartbreakingly bleak story about what binds people together This is Kore-eda at his most realistically best. Filled with a compassionate, profound and intelligent narrative that never leaves you for a second, Shoplifters is the best film of the year and a perfect swan song to Kirin Kiki who literally gets buried in a Kore-eda household.