Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 June 2019

Beyond ‘Roma': the other movies nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film

We take a look at the four other hopefuls in the running for the Academy Award

Joanna Kulig in 'Cold War'. Photo by Lukasz Bak
Joanna Kulig in 'Cold War'. Photo by Lukasz Bak

Alfonso Cuaron’s stunning Mexican memory piece Roma has swept the Oscars board with a huge 10 nominations, including the big two of Best Director and Best Picture, as well as Best Foreign Language Film (which it is a favourite to win). However, we take a look at the other four films nominated in the category and give our predictions on whether any of them could upset Roma on the big night.


What is it? Nadine Labaki’s grim tale of Beirut’s street children has captured hearts on the festival circuit, picking up the Jury Prize at Cannes, where it received a 15-minute standing ovation at its premiere. Filmed using a cast of real street kids, the film follows Zain (Zain Al Rafeea), who is suing his parents for the crime of giving him life.

Will it win? Lebanese director Labaki has plenty of local support as she bids to go one better than Ziad Doueiri, who received Lebanon’s first Oscar nomination for The Insult in this category last year. Realistically, though, Capernaum is an outsider in an unusually strong year, even if we leave aside the all-conquering Roma. In any other year, Cold War would probably be the outright favourite for the prize. Capernaum’s circa $5m box office takings are dwarfed by most of its competitors, suggesting that although Labaki’s film may have won over festival crowds, it hasn’t had the chance to enter the consciousness of more mainstream voters to the same degree as its competitors.


What is it? Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Japanese drama tells the story of a poor family who are forced to rely on shoplifting to supplement their meagre income. When the family takes in an abused neighbourhood girl – despite their poverty – an even more convoluted string of estranged and hidden family relationships begin to emerge, and things start to really go downhill.

Will it win? Kore-eda’s film picked up the Palme d’Or at Cannes, so we shouldn’t underestimate it. Having taken over $70m at the global box office, it’s also the most commercially successful of this year’s nominees, so it perhaps has the advantage of being more familiar than its competitors. Ultimately though, I can’t see a win. I stick by my prediction of either a Roma win or a sympathy win for Cold War.

Cold War

What is it? A kind of Soviet A Star is Born, Pawel Pawlikowski’s drama follows a musical director who discovers a young singing prodigy in postwar Poland. The pair are required to spend the next two decades performing as part of the communist cultural propaganda machine, and in the process fall first madly, then obsessively, and finally destructively in love.

Will it win? It seems the favourite of the non-Roma runners. Pawlikowski already has one foreign language Oscar to his name for 2015’s Ida, while Cold War has already picked up a clutch of critics’ awards for Best Foreign Language Film, albeit in cases where Roma has taken Best Film outright. The fact that the film also has Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Cinematography shows that the movie has support from the Academy’s technical voters too. It’s the second-favourite, and a lot may depend on whether certain judges vote for Roma to take the main prize and think this one should go to another film.

Never Look Away

What is it? Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s bleak biopic is inspired by the life of German painter Gerhardt Richter, although Richter has called it an “abuse” and a “gross distortion”. As a youngster in Nazi Germany, Kurt’s beloved aunt is experimented on, sterilised and killed by a Nazi eugenicist. Years later, as an art student in East Berlin, Kurt falls in love with fellow student Ellie, unaware that her father is the very geneticist who mutilated his aunt.

Will it win? Like Capernaum, Never Look Away is an outsider, and its $2.2m (Dh8m) box office is even lower, so it’s certainly not likely to be at the forefront of many voters’ minds, and the film was something of a surprise inclusion, given the omission of films like the much-fancied South Korean flick Burning. We shouldn’t write it off though – Oscar judges tend to love a good Nazi yarn, and Von Donnersmack has a history of upsetting the odds, as when he sneaked the 2006 prize from under the nose of the visually stunning Pan’s Labyrinth with his drama The Lives of Others. You never know.

Updated: February 25, 2019 01:36 AM