Oscar Politics: Foreign Filmmakers

Global politics have also entered the Oscar ceremonies through the nomination of foreign film and foreign artists. As was noted, the Polish government didn't approve of Roman Polanski's stunning debut, Knife in the Water, which was nominated for the 1963 Best Foreign Language picture, a denouncement that motivated the artist to leave his home country for Hollywood.

In 1981, the Hungarian producer of the Best Animated Short, The Fly, was unable to obtain a visa to attend the show. Instead, an official of the Hungarian Embassy in the United States was authorized to represent him, showing again how intricate the connection between politics and film is.

Documentaries and foreign films are more explicitly political than mainstream American features. The nominated foreign films are political in another way, due to the particular regulations that govern this category. Films are sent for consideration by the equivalent academies of foreign countries. Censorship often comes into play, when a given country objects to sending a good film that is critical of its government, as was the case of Man of Iron. And conversely, foreign films are chosen because they project positive images of their respective countries.

The Official Story

Indeed, the Best Foreign-Language Picture category is particularly vulnerable to political pressures. Four of the five nominees of the 1985 Best ForeignLanguage Picture were political works with strong ideological messages. The winner, the Argentinean The Official Story, is a disturbing emotional drama about an uppermiddle class history teacher (played by Norma Aleandro), who suspects that her adopted daughter is a child of one of the desaparecidos, the Argentineans abducted during the junta's counterinsurgency. In his speech, the film's producer Luis Perenzo said: “On another March 24, 10 years ago, we suffered the last military coup in my country. We will never forget this nightmare, but we are certain now to begin with our new dreams.”

The Official Story competed against the Yugoslavian entry, When Father Was Away on Business, a family tale set in Sarajevo in the 1950s, when the country was torn between Marshal Tito's policies and the Stalinist Soviet Union. The other nominees were the Hungarian film, Colonel Redl, about Alfred Redl, the powerful intelligence officer of the AustroHungarian Empire who, according to the movie, when threatened by the Russians with public revelation of his homosexuality, agreed to become their agent, then committed suicide. Angry Harvest was a psychological World War II drama about the relationship between a Jewish woman escaping the Nazis and a devout Polish farmer. The French comedy Three Men and a Cradle was the fifth contender, a film dealing with changing definitions of gender, particularly male roles.