Jan 15, 2015 10:27 AM
'Leviathan,' Ida' among foreign-language Oscar contenders
The Associated Press
LONDON (AP) Five movies that tackle conflict, corruption and other harsh realities with humanity and humor are finalists for the 2015 Academy Award for best foreign-language film.
The nominees announced Thursday include director Andrey Zvyagintsev's "Leviathan," a tragic parable of small-town Russian corruption; Pawel Pawlikowski's "Ida," in which an aspiring Polish nun confronts dark truths about her family and her country; and "Tangerines," an Estonian-Georgian film by Zaza Urushadze set in post-Soviet Georgia of the early 1990s.
The other contenders are Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako's "Timbuktu," a powerful film about the takeover of northern Mali by Islamic militants, and Argentine filmmaker Damian Szifron's explosive comic romp "Wild Tales."
Many will consider "Leviathan," which won a Golden Globe on Sunday for best foreign-language film, to be the front-runner.
The story of a mechanic whose property is coveted by a local official, the film draws on many of the dissatisfactions of modern Russia, including corrupt officials, a dysfunctional legal system and an Orthodox Church that effectively acts as an arm of the state. It received state funding despite its implicit social criticism and is due to be released in Russia next month.
Zvyagintsev said the Oscar nomination was "an unbelievable result" that boded well for the fate of its Russian release, "because this is possibly the most serious film award in the world."
The director said he hoped Russian officials would understand that the film's creators had acted "in a voice of truth, a voice of sincerity."
The other finalists have also made a strong international impact. "Ida," from Polish director Pawlikowski, was on many critics' year-end best lists. The austere black-and-white film also received a best-cinematography nomination for its two directors of photography, Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal.
Pawlikowski told the AP he was delighted that a quiet film that goes against the grain of much modern cinema had found such a wide audience.
He said "most films nowadays are cut, cut, cut, and a lot of music that tells you what to feel and think ... Whereas this film is very restrained, you know, and it leaves big gaps for people to enter."
"Wild Tales," a collection of six stories in which trivial-seeming incidents descend into mayhem, was a hit at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, where director Szifron joked that it could be called "People on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown." Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, whose films include "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," is a producer of Szifron's film.
Actress Rita Cortese, one of the film's stars, said its depiction of people under pressure had struck a chord around the world.
"(It brought) laughter everywhere," she told Argentina's Todo Noticias television.
"Timbuktu," which charts the fate of a close-knit, cattle-herding family under the militants' harsh rule, was also a Cannes entry. It is the first Mauritanian film ever nominated for an Oscar.
Sissako said the nomination was an "acknowledgement of work accomplished through the passion and commitment of women and men of different countries, united to defend our universal values of love, peace, and justice."
El-Boukhari Ben Essayouti , director of Timbuktu's cultural mission, said the nomination was also an honor for the sand-swept Malian city, synonymous for many with the ends of the Earth.
The movie has not yet been shown in Timbuktu, where the threat from Islamic militants still looms even though they no longer control the city.
"Tangerines," about two men who tend wounded soldiers from rival sides of the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict, has also netted awards nominations around the world. Its Estonian producer, Ivo Felt, said the film tried to show the impact of war any war on individuals.
"It's a crazy world out there," Felt said. "It's about basic human values and people living on the edge."
Felt said he was proud to receive the first Oscar nomination for Estonia, a Baltic nation of 1.3 million people.
"Many people don't even know where Estonia is, so getting nominated is just amazing," he said.
The five finalists were chosen from a nine-film list winnowed down from 83 submissions. The critically praised drama "Two Days, One Night," from Belgium's Dardenne brothers failed to make the final nine. But its star, Marion Cotillard, received a best-actress nomination for her performance as a young mother driven to desperation. She's up against Felicity Jones, Julianne Moore, Rosamund Pike and Reese Witherspoon.
The winners of the 87th Academy Awards will be announced at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Feb. 22.
Associated Press writers Sandy Cohen in Los Angeles; Monika Scislowska in Warsaw; Jim Heintz and Laura Mills in Moscow; Jari Tanner in Tallinn, Estonia; Baba Ahmed in Bamako, Mali; and Almudena Calatrava in Buenos Aires contributed to this report.