2015 Foreign Language Oscar Nominees

The five films nominated for a Foreign Language Film Academy Award last week deal with a variety of subjects from the fall of the Soviet Union to jihadists’ arrival in Mali in 2012. Below is information about each nominee with links to what critics are saying about them.

Ida — Poland

This artfully shot black and white film chronicles a young nun’s journey to learn more about her family before she takes her vows and dons her habit.

The film takes place in 1960’s Poland and deals with the legacy of the Holocaust as well as Poland’s transition to communism.

The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw called Ida “…a journey into the heart of Poland’s church and state, into its Catholicism and anti-Semitism” while David Denby, writing for The New Yorker, called the film a masterpiece. Denby particularly struck by the film’s use of silence.

I can’t recall a movie that makes such expressive use of silence and portraiture; from the beginning, I was thrown into a state of awe by the movie’s fervent austerity. Friends have reported similar reactions: if not awe, then at least extreme concentration and satisfaction. This compact masterpiece has the curt definition and the finality of a reckoning—a reckoning in which anger and mourning blend together.

Ida is considered a strong contender for the Oscar.

Leviathan — Russia

Like Ida, Leviathan is concerned with loss. In the film, a family living in a coastal town is caught in a fight with a corrupt mayor who wants to claim their land via eminent domain.

A friend enlisted to help the family only further complicates the situation.

Leviathan is also considered a strong Oscar contender with the LA Times‘s Kenneth Turan calling the film “bleak and relentless … dealing with nothing less than the current state of Russia’s soul.”

The New York Times called the film a “modern-day Job” and, as Turan did in his review, conjures up a sense of bleakness.

Tangerines — Estonia

We remain in the former Soviet Union with this film which is actually centered upon the collapse of the USSR.

Tangerines explores the experiences of Estonians in Georgia as violence and civil war erupts. As neighbors flee, one Estonia man stays behind, tending his home and his tangerine crop.

Though Leviathan and Ida have been getting the most buzz, The Hollywood Reporter thinks this film is just as likely to home the statue.

One of the strongest contenders is the entry from Estonia, Tangerines.  Although the subject of civil war within the former Soviet countries has been tackled in other movies, this retelling is one of the most concise and affecting.  Perhaps it works because it focuses on just a few characters and yet crystallizes the entire tragic history of the region.

Variety says Tangerines “…underlines the pointlessness of organized human bloodshed in the larger context of nature’s bounty.”

Timbuktu — Mauritania

The action in Timbuktu is also framed by violence, but much more recent.

In 2012 jihadists arrived in Mali, specifically in the ancient city of Timbuktu, upending the lives of those living there. One family is forced to choose between staying in the occupied city or leaving everything they know behind.

A review published by CBS called the film a “humanistic portrait of life in an occupied territory.”

In an interview with The New York Times‘s ArtsBeat Blog, director Abderrahmane Sissako said he hoped “The film, could help people understand — not to change anything, but to give an insight into these themes and issues.”


The Town Cinema — Argentina. Photo by Lisandro M. Enrique. (Flickr Creative Commons.)

Wild Tales — Argentina

Revenge is at the heart of this film. Six violence filled vignettes show individuals at the very worst and the murder and betray those close to them.

This Variety review calls the film “wickedly delightful,” noting that “Part of the pic’s satisfaction comes from seeing people, or systems, getting the comeuppance they so richly deserve.”

The BBC called Wild Tales  the one festival film you “must see,” saying “The stories in Wild Tales are universal and transcend the language in which they’re told.”

All five films deal, in different ways, with loss and violence and make for a bleak, if satisfying slate of viewing.

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