Oscar 2007: Foreign Language Nominees–Analysis and Evaluation

Analysis of the five nominees for the Foreign-Language Oscar shows that most deal with war, and that with the exception of one, Beaufort, they are all made by major, familiar directors, such as Wajda, Mikhalkov, and Bodrov.

Katyn (Poland)

Vet director Andrzej Wajda, who has won many prizes, has called “Katyn” his most personal film, since it’s dealing with the Soviet massacre that killed thousands of Polish officers and intellectuals, including the filmmaker’s own father.

With a Berlin Film Fest screening slated as “Katyn’s” first major playdate outside of Poland (where it was a commercial success), there may be little time for the film to gain momentum in the U.S.

Mongol (Kazakhstan)

A lavish, historical epic from a country that’s determined leave imprint on that genre, Kazakhstan’s Genghis Khan biopic was well received in Toronto Festival, and marks the second chance at an Oscar for director Sergei Bodrov, whose Russian film “Prisoner of the Mountains” was previously nominated.

Given the topicality of the other films in this category, “Mongol’s” 12th-century setting might make it seem a distant, less relevant work.

12 (Russia)

Vet filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov uses Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men” as a template to explore ordinary Russians’ relationship with the surrounding Chechen immigrant population, crafting a morality play that reportedly drove even Vladimir Putin to tears. Mikhalkov’s “Burnt by the Sun” won the 1994 Foreign-Language Oscar.

Beaufort (Israel)

An intimate study of Israel Defense Forces soldiers holed up in the titular castle shortly before the country’s 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon, the film moves beyond simple “war is hell” tropes to explore the listlessness and emotional dissonance of military life. Israeli audiences flocked to see a film that was honored by the Berlin Festival jury last year.

The film is Israel’s second Oscar pick, after its first selection, “The Band’s Visit,” was disqualified late in the game. While that shouldn’t detract from “Beaufort’s” merits, the film may absorb the brunt of any lingering resentment over that decision.

The Counterfeiters (Austria)

Austria’s film about Jewish forgers who win special privileges from the Nazis worked up a great deal of positive traction following a marathon run through the festival circuit. With the Romanian “4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days” out of the run, it could become the well-traveled cineaste’s choice.

The Academy has often honored tales of World War II survival, and the film’s ethically compromised protagonists are very much in tune with our times.