Oscar Directors: Fellini, Bergman, Bertolucci

The foreign film directors who were nominated for an Oscar had made their debuts at a younger age than their American peers, but the latter are younger (in their thirties) when they receive their first nomination.

This difference increases by the time the foreigner directors win their Oscar. The American filmmakers win at the average age of forty, whereas the foreign ones at forty-five.

Carol Reed

British director Carol Reed’s international reputation reached a peak with The Fallen Idol (1949), earning him his first nomination, and The Third Man (1950), his second. Nonetheless, Reed won the Oscar many years later, and for a musical, Oliver! (1968). It was a long overdue Oscar, received by an aging director (sixtynine) then in decline.


Most foreign filmmakers have done their best work by the time they earn their first Oscar nominations. Jean Renoir received his one and only nomination for The Southerner (1945), a film he made in the United States at the age of fiftytwo, years after making his French masterpieces, Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game, for which he didn’t receive directing nomination.


Fellini, another film master, never won a merit directorial Oscar despite four nominations: La Dolce Vita, 81/2, Satyricon, and Amarcord. Fellini was older (fortytwo) than his American peers at his first nomination and, like other foreigners, had not been nominated for his earlier masterworks, La Strada and Nights of Cabiria, though both films had won the Best Foreign-Language Picture in 1956 and 1957, respectively. Fellini later received an Honorary Oscar in 1993, which was basically a compensatory gesture.

Ingmar Bergman

That the Academy tends to overlook the work of firstrate foreign filmmakers is clear from the career of Ingmar Bergman. It’s hard to believe, but Bergman received his first nomination as late as 1973, for Cries and Whispers, when he was fiftysix. None of his earlier landmarks, The Seventh Seal, The Virgin Spring, or Persona was recognized by the Academy for his masterful directing, though The Virgin Spring and Through a Glass Darkly won the Foreign-Language Picture Oscar of 1960 and 1961, respectively. Bergman, like Fellini, has not won a Best Director Oscar, though he earned a second nomination for Face to Face, and a third for Fanny and Alexander, which also won the Foreign-Language Picture Oscar.

In all likelihood, Bergman, like Fellini, will win an Honorary Oscar for his career, but the opportunity to confer the award on a uniquely talented artist while at his peak was missed. Bergman’s story is by no means unique. The foreign Oscar directors have all had established reputations in the various international film forums before earning their initial Oscar nominations.

Satyajit Ray

The revered Indian director, Satyajit Ray, who made such classics as Pather Panchali and The World of Apu, was awarded the 1991 Honorary Oscar. Too ill to attend the ceremonies, he appeared on videotape from his hospital bed in Calcutta, clutching the Oscar statuette in his arms.

1987: Foreign Rules

Yet every once in a while foreign filmmakers feature prominently in the Oscar competition. In 1987, all five of the nominated directors were born outside of the United States: Italian Bertolucci (who won) for The Last Emperor, Brit John Boorman for Hope and Glory, Swedish Lasse Hallstrom for My Life as a Dog, Canadian Norman Jewison for Moonstruck, and Brit Adrian Lyne for Fatal Attraction.

In 1995, the noted Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski received two Oscar nominations, Best Director and Original Screenplay for Red, the Swissmade picture and last entry in his acclaimed Three Colors trilogy that won most of the critics awards for foreign film. A furor erupted when Red was disqualified to compete in the Foreign-language picture category due to rigid bureaucratic rules.

Another Polish filmmaker, Andrzej Wajda, made history in 1999, when he became the first ever East European director to be given an Honorary Oscar. That he received the award from a former politically-oriented actress Jane Fonda made his moment in the limelight all the more memorable. “I think to create film in a foreign language, and yet to be known and recognized by everyone is the best kind of success one can expect,” Wajda said in his eloquent acceptance speech.

In 1997, James Cameron became the first Canadian to win the Best Director, for Titanic. Though working in Hollywood, the Ontario-born Cameron has remained Canuck by citizenship. Another Canadian-educated filmmaker, Atom Egoyan (who was born in Egypt), was nominated in the same year for directing and adapting The Sweet Hereafter.

In 2001, too, the five nominated directors represented an international mix: Robert Altman (Gosford Park), David Lynch (Mulholland Drive) and Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind) are American, Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) is from New Zealand, and Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down) is British.