Roma and the Best Foreign Language films at Oscar 2019

Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma was declared the Best Foreign Language film at the 91st Academy Awards but the other four nominees—Capernaum, Cold War, Shoplifters and Never Look Away are also fairly deserving of attention and acclaim.

Roma and the Best Foreign Language films at Oscar 2019 Roma and the Best Foreign Language films at Oscar 2019 Source : Press

The 2018 Palme d'Or winner Shoplifters is a sort of film that illustrates the expansive scope of cinema as a medium. The director Hirokazu Koreeda is not experimenting with the elements of film, he is captain of the ship-he knows exactly where he wants to go and the path he is going to follow. He is confident and patient as a filmmaker. The screenplay is written with such excellence that there is no need for any non-linear narrative, fancy camerawork, disorienting editing or extravagant production. The lens form which we look at the lives on-screen is of empathy and compassion. There is an attempt to understand people in poverty beyond economic hardship. Shoplifters explores what the threads holding a family together are made of and the answer reveals that its contents aren't as simple as we believe them to be. It is a sympathetic and warm-hearted film until its catastrophic culmination. "Maybe the bond is stronger when you choose your family" a quote from Shoplifters effectively sums everything up.



The Lebanese drama film Capernaum("Chaos") is a gut-wrenching story of a young 12-year-old boy Zain El Hajj(played by Zain al Rafeea) who sues his parents for neglecting him. Director Nadine Labaki follows Zain's life which is all about survival in the slums of Beirut. Zain is streetsmart and brave enough to desert his parents. That's not all, he is precocious and shows unprecedented maturity for his age when he takes care of Ethiopian refugee Rahil (played by Yordanos Shiferaw) and her baby son, Yonas (played by Boluwatife Treasure Bankole). Capernaum won the esteemed Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It is obvious that Nadine Labaki cast all non-professionals to play the characters in Capernaum not because they are not good enough, but because they are too good. It won't be a stretch to say that the actors are not playing characters but being themselves on screen-the lives of their characters closely resemble their own. Labaki closely worked with the cast and developed a method where she would construct scenes and the performers had the liberty to react as they would in real life and replaced that in the screenplay. Capernaum is a film rooted in reality and everydayness of its setting. It is informed and shaped by the same routines. In the end, it has a heart, a tenderness that offers hope to look beyond the despair and seek humanity.


Like Pawel Pawlikowski's last film Ida, which won the Academy Award in Best Foreign Language film section, he gets a nomination again after four years, this time for his latest film Cold War which is a historical period drama. Cold War too is leaving an impression as much for its visual brilliance as for its cinematic genius. Here, Pawel again chooses to shoot in monochrome and 4:3 aspect ratio. Not only does it give a distinct look to his films, as it is rarely used ever since widescreen became the standard format. Pawel employs this unique ratio to perfection and his compositions are immaculate and simply memorable which is something that we expect from him largely due to stunning visuals in Ida. Cold War has soft natural lighting which aids when looking intently at the screen, trying to absorb all the details of the period and appreciate the marvelous aesthetics by cinematographer Lucasz Zal. The tracking shots are just as gorgeous. It's as stylish and glamorous as it could be.


The last nominee was Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who made headlines first when his film The Lives Of Others won the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film in 2006. Next, he made the star-studded film The Tourist which is a blot on his otherwise fine career, and with his latest film Never Look Away Florian does make some amends. The epic drama also received a nomination in Best Cinematography category for its ambitious and mesmerizing visuals. Over three hours duration, Never Look Away runs for quite a while as Florian veers off and charters too long in unnecessary tracks. Yet, overall there is a lot to take away in its search for the meaning and effects of war and how it engages with art. The world that Florian creates is not perfect and there is so much that emerges in memories from what was once buried deep.


Roma is poetic-delightful, nostalgic and deeply affecting. It is also incredibly human and has the truthfulness of documentary filmmaking. Part of that comes from Cuarón's decision to cast non-actors (who resemble the people in his childhood.) The passion and honesty come from the fact that it draws its content from Cuarón's personal life which is why it gives the feeling of a lived experience, a reflection on one's past in hindsight. Sometimes a directors' best work is not their most personal, and the most personal work can at times err on the wrong side of indulgence. Cuarón proves that notion wrong as Roma being a personal film is both uncompromising in vision as well as in execution.


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