Competition for the 2018 coveted Best Foreign Language Film Oscar® has brought forth dozens of well-made films from around the world. With far too many to cover, I will restrict my critiques to some of the European entries.
Denmark’s Official Oscar® Entry For Best Foreign Language Film
Distributor: A Magnolia Pictures Release
Directed by: Gustav Möller
Starring: Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage, Johan Olsen, Omar Shargawi, &
Jakob Ulrik Lohmann
Language: Danish with English Subtitles
Running Time: 85 minutes
If I were to tell you that almost the entire film takes place in a small cubicle inside a police station where officer Asger Holm, awaiting the outcome of an internal investigation into his activities, has been assigned to man what would be the equivalent to our 911 emergency line, you might think the film would be claustrophobic with all the action taking place in such close confines. Normally you might be right, but thanks to Gustav Möller’s brilliant direction of “The Guilty” and Jakob Cedergren’s spine-tingling performance as a policeman dealing with both this looming murder as well as his own demons, instead what the film presents is an edge-of-your-seat unrelenting, tension filled thriller serving up unexpected twists and turns. Briefly, a call comes in from a woman claiming she was kidnapped by her husband at knifepoint and she fears he is going to murder her. The line suddenly goes dead and what ensues is a cat and mouse narrative as the officer must use all his wits to save this woman. Mölle’s directorial debut meticulously drives the tension-filled narrative, which will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last second of the film.
Poland’s Official Oscar® Entry For Best Foreign Language Film
American Distributor: Amazon Studios
Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski
Story: Pawel Pawlikowski
Screenplay: Pawel Pawlikowski & Janusz Glowacki
Starring: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Agata Kulesza and Borys Szyc
Languages: Polish, French, Russian, Italian, German, Croatian, with English subtitles.
Running Time: 88 Minutes
This visually stunning black and white film directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, with haunting cinematography by Łukasz Żal, got my vote for Best Foreign Language Film.
It is a sizzling, epic love story beginning in the shadow of the Cold War in 1950s Poland and takes us through a fascinating, passion filled fifteen-year journey, as two star-crossed lovers, magnificently portrayed by Joanna Kulig as Zula and Tomasz Kot as Wiktor, are magnetically drawn together through the years but fail to sustain their viscerally passionate relationship. In addition to Poland, their adventures take them to Berlin, Yugoslavia, and Paris. In his quest to restore Poland’s traditional folk music, Wiktor and his team tour the Polish countryside recording and auditioning singers and musicians for their folk music troupe Mazurek, based on an actual troupe. At the opening, we hear a cacophony of voices as young men and women audition. It is a most delightful beginning, which fully captures your attention and makes you smile. It is in this setting that Wiktor becomes hopelessly infatuated with the young, beautiful and quite sexy, but perhaps duplicitous Zula who allows herself to fall under the spell of his raging attraction. You might recall that the director won an Oscar® for his brilliant “Ida.” “Cold War” is equally compelling filmmaking and in countless ways, because of the complexity of the narrative, more deserving to be feted than the current favorite “Roma”. Although another example of excellent filmmaking, in comparison to “Cold War,” it is a small slice of life story exquisitely written, directed, and photographed by Alfonso Cuarón Orozco. Yalitza Aparicio gives a knock-out performance as the family maid Cleo while his direction captures the drama and textures of a small, affluent Mexican family set against the backdrop of street violence. His use of water images almost becomes a fascinating character within the film.
Switzerland’s Official Oscar® Entry For Best Foreign Language Film & Documentary
Production Companies: Zero One, Thelma Film, Ormenis Film, Swiss Radio and Television, Bayerischer Rundfunk
Director & Screenplay: Markus Imhoof
Producers: Thomas Kufus, Pierre-Alain Meier, Markus Imhoof
Director of photography: Peter Indergrand
Cast: Robert Hunger-Bühler, Caterina Genta
Languages: German, Italian, French, English
“Eldorado” director Markus Imhoof’s draws on a very personal story from his childhood when during World War II his family took in a young Italian girl named Giovanna who his parents eventually adopted. Using that as a springboard, he
illuminates the unimaginable harsh conditions facing refugees trying to escape from Africa to Europe. Zooming in on painful close-ups of the overcrowded boats and the desperate faces of those trying to flee to safety, his camera brings into sharp focus the harsh reality of what these desperate people endured on the Mediterranean Sea, in Lebanon, Italy, Germany, and in Switzerland.
Although the story telling is very confusing at times, the film couldn’t be timelier in view of what’s happening as refugees from South America try to reach our southern border in search of sanctuary from the dangerous, life threatening conditions from which they are fleeing. Perhaps some day the current administration will re-read and honor the words written on the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door
Watch for my next three capsule reviews: “The Eighth Commissioner,” (Croatia) “Champions” (Spain) and “The Resistance Banker” (The Netherlands).