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The Foreigners of the Oscars

 

10-27 January, 2019

As the 91st Academy Awards are approaching, Istanbul Modern Cinema offers a reminder of the entries for the “Best Foreign Language Film” category. Featuring a selection from the submissions from 87 countries cited to compete in the Oscar race, the program represents a category that brings together films from diverse cultures and languages, which were big hits in world festivals and, despite being Oscar-nominated, are outside the Hollywood track. The program includes Lee Chang-Dong’s poetic and mysterious film Burning (Beoning) based on a story by Haruki Murakami, as well as Lebanon’s candidate and Cannes Jury Prize-winner Capernaum helmed by Nadine Labaki. Also featured in the program are Ukraine’s entry Donbass by Sergei Loznitsa, who won the award for Best Director in Cannes’s Un Certain Regard category, and Belgium’s submission Girl, which focuses on Lara, a transgender teenager striving to become a ballerina.

 

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SHOPLIFTERS (MANBIKI KAZOKU), 2018

Japan |DCP, Color, 121' |Japanese

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cast: Lily Franky, Sakura Andô, Mayu Matsuoka

A touching, heart-warming and striking family drama by veteran director Hirokazu Kore-eda, which was awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year. The film centers on an out-of-the-ordinary family who have made stealing and shoplifting their way of life. A father who shoplifts groceries with his son, a mother who pilfers what she finds in the pockets of clothes left for cleaning at the laundry where she is employed, and a tiny home where family members of all ages live together. As they come home from work on a freezing night, they come across a five-year-old girl called Yuri, shivering from the cold in front of her house. They decide to temporarily take her in and the youngest member of the crowded family thus becomes part of the team of “shoplifters”. However, in this family, nothing is actually as it seems...

 

 

AYKA, 2018
Kazakhstan |DCP, Color, 100' |Russian, Kirghiz

Director: Sergei Dvortsevoy
Cast: Samal Yeslyamova, Aleksandr Zlatopolskiy

Ten years after being awarded the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes for his previous film Tulpan, Sergei Dvortsevoy comes back with a story about 25-year-old Ayka’s struggle to survive. Immediately after giving birth in a hospital in Moscow, Ayka escapes. Over the course of a week, she searches for a job while ignoring her postpartum condition and trying to hide the fact that she has just given birth. But no one wants to give a job to this woman who has no work permit. Ayka is a drama which, from the very first scene, makes the viewers question their prejudices while displaying how an individual can sacrifice her humanity in the name of survival.

 

 

DONBASS, 2018

Ukraine |DCP, Color, 110' |Ukrainian, Russian

Director: Sergey Loznitsa
Cast: Boris Kamorzin, Valeriu Andriuta, Tamara Yatsenko

Donbass, Ukraine’s submission for this year’s Oscars, portrays the conflict taking place in Ukraine’s Donbass region. Taking the viewer on a hair-raising tour of the country’s front line on the Russian border which has become the center of the conflict, the film begins with a group of actors having their makeup freshened in a trailer, after which they are led by a soldier to a square where controlled explosions are taking place. Their job is to make statements that will be broadcast in a fake news report. Donbass stands out for its narrative style, which focuses on the geographical region rather than the characters and story. The film won the award for Best Director in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes.

 

 

ELDORADO, 2018

Switzerland |DCP, Color, 90' |German, French, Italian

Director: Markus Imhoof

In this documentary, Markus Imhoof combines his personal history with Europe’s failure to cope with the refugee crisis. The director looks at the current situation through memories of his childhood friendship with Giovanna, an Italian girl his parents took in during World War II, and how their friendship was torn apart by global politics. In the documentary, we see the difficult living conditions of migrants traveling by boat to Europe from Libya and placed in camps from where some escape to work as laborers in tomato fields, in a struggle to make ends meet. Eldorado is a striking production which examines not only the displacement of people, but also the moral bankruptcy of profit-making practices.

With the Contributions of 

 

 

BIRDS OF PASSAGE (PÁJAROS DE VERANO), 2018

Columbia |DCP, Color, 125' |Wayuu, Spanish, English

Director: Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra
Cast: Natalia Reyes, Carmiña Martínez, José Acosta

Birds of Passage, Columbia’s entry for this year’s Oscars, tells a true story about the history of drug trafficking. Raphayet wants to prove his worth within the community and marry Zaida, a girl from a family of the Wayuu tribe. In order to secure the dowry required for Zaida, he resorts to illegal means. He first sells drugs to a few American hippies, but once he realizes how profitable this is, he ends up gettingin way over his head. A visually stunning film,Birds of Passage brings an invigorating perspective to the topic of drug trafficking in South America with which we’ve lately become familiar.

 

 

CAPERNAUM (CAPHARNAÜM) 2018

Lebanon |DCP, Color, 120' |Arabic

Director: Nadine Labaki
Cast: Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole

Although addressing very different topics, Nadine Labaki’s films all focus on themes such as the diverse aspects of life in Lebanon, the unfairness of life, and economic inequality. This time, she returns with a touching film telling the story of 12-year-old Zain who sues his family for bringing him into this world. No one knows his exact age because they couldn’t even get him a birth certificate. Having no ID, he cannot attend school, nor be admitted in a hospital. Zain struggles to survive, working in the deprived neighborhoods of Lebanon. When his 11-year-old sister is sold to the man he works for, he loses his patience. Featuring an almost entirely nonprofessional cast of performers, the film gives the viewer a sense of reality while also creating a fairy tale-like atmosphere.

 

 

GIRL, 2018

Belgium |DCP, Color, 105' |French, Flemish

Director: Lukas Dhont
Cast: Victor Polster, Arieh Worthalter, Oliver Bodart

Lara has moved with her father and brother to a new city to study ballet at one of Belgium’s most famous dance academies. In the meantime, she is in the midst of a gender transition process. She is only 15 years old and born in a boy’s body. Although her family, fellow students, and doctors are quite accepting and supportive, Lara’s battle is mainly with herself. She has to deal with the pressure she exerts on herself both to cope with the physical challenges of training to become a ballerina and to avoid anything that might make her look like a boy in her everyday life. Coming alive with Victor Polster’s breakout performance, Girl won the award for Best First Feature Film at Cannes.

 

 

THE HEIRESSES (LAS HEREDERAS), 2018

Paraguay |DCP, Color, 95' |Spanish

Director: Marcelo Martinessi
Cast: Ana Brun, Margarita Irun, Ana Ivanova

A debut feature by Marcelo Martinessi, The Heiresses tells a story about social class, desires, and Paraguay’s disappearing elite, through the financial problems faced by two women who have been living together for years. Chela and Chiquita are forced to sell off, one by one, what remains of their inherited possessions, and Chiquita is imprisoned on fraud charges as a result of their debts. Chela struggles with depression and finds it difficult to break away from the past. One day, her neighbor asks her to drive her to a bridge party, and before she knows it, Chela becomes an unlicensed taxi driver. Her new job will open the door for a new love and an unexpected liberation.

 

 

NEVER LOOK AWAY (WERK OHNE AUTOR), 2018

Germany |DCP, Color, 188' |German, Russian

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Cast: Tom Schilling, Sebastian Koch, Paula Beer

Germany’s submission for this year’s Oscars is inspired by the life of Gerhard Richter, often regarded as one of the greatest living painters.The film also bears many traces of the turbulent history of 20th-century Germany. The young artist, who is called Kurt Barner in the story, has emigrated to West Germany, but hasn’t recovered from the traumas of his childhood under Nazi Germany. His involvement with art is interrupted first by the rejection of modernism by the Nazis, then by the communists who only accept social realism as an art form. At school, Kurt meets the love of his life, Ellie, thanks to whom he begins to create works that reflect not only his own fate, but also the traumas of an entire generation.

With the Contributions of 

 

 

THE CAKEMAKER, 2018

Israel |DCP, Color, 104' |Hebrew

Director: Ofir Raul Graizer
Cast: Tim Kalkhof, Sarah Adler, Roy Miller

Oren frequently visits Berlin, where he goes to Thomas’s café to buy his wife’s favorite cookies. These visits soon turn into a relationship, and eventually an unexpected love affair. After Oren’s sudden death, Thomas finds himself in Jerusalem, the city where Oren lived with his family. Here, the young man becomes involved with the people his deceased lover left behind. In this first feature, director Ofir Raul Graizer presents a touching drama that highlights themes of family ties, love, grief, and religion.

With the Contributions of 

 

 

ROMA, 2018

Mexico |DCP, Black & White, 135' |Spanish, English

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey

Written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who also served as the cinematographer, Roma tells the story of a crumbling middle-class family and their maid, Cleo, in Mexico City in the 1970s. Although an autobiographical story, the film focuses on Cleo rather than the representation of Cuarón’s childhood. After the father leaves for a business trip and never returns, a series of catastrophes ensue. While dealing with her own struggles, the maid tries to keep the family together. Thwarting period-movie expectations, each of the film’s frames has been carefully selected, its images immaculate. Although shot on a panoramic scale, profound and personal memories are rendered in a lyrical style in Roma, which is a masterpiece on memory.

 

 

COLD WAR (ZIMNA WOJNA), 2018

Poland, France, United Kingdom |DCP, Black-White, 88' |Polish, French, German

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Cast: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc

Pawel Pawlikowski, who won the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film with his former film Ida, returns with another film, which garnered several awards and another Oscar nomination. Set against the backdrop of the ruinous post-war Poland, the film features Wiktor appointed as the art director of the dance and music collective with a mission to rejuvenate the country’s folklore. Wiktor falls in love with Zula, her voice and the light she emanates during the try-outs. Cold War portrays the passionate and melancholic love affair between these two musicians. Shot in black and white, this minimalist film is also striking with its musical variety from jazz to folk music.

With the Contributions of 

 

 

THE GUILTY (DEN SKYLDIGE), 2018

Denmark |DCP, Color, 85' |Danish

Director: Gustav Möller
Cast: Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage, Omar Shargawi

Police officer Asger Holm has been demoted to desk duty at the emergency dispatch center while awaiting the outcome of his court case. As he expects his shift to be slow and boring, his evening takes a sudden turn with a call he receives from a woman who has been kidnapped. After learning that her children are home alone, Asger commits himself to rescuing the woman. He tries everything he can think of to solve the case from the confines of his desk at the police station. Although set in a single location, The Guilty captivates the viewer as a breathless thriller while questioning society’s perception of innocence, goodness, and guilt.

 

 

BURNING (BEONING), 2018

South Korea |DCP, Color, 148' |Korean, English

Director: Chang-dong Lee
Cast: Ah-in Yoo, Steven Yeun, Jong-seo Jun

Helmed by veteran South Korean director Chang-dong Lee, Burning is a screen adaptation of a short story by Haruki Murakami. Jong-su, an aspiring writer who works as a delivery boy, runs into his childhood friend Haemi whom he doesn’t recognize at first. Later, we learn that this attractive and energetic young woman has undergone plastic surgery. After being with Jong-su, she goes on a trip to Africa. The young man can’t take his mind off Haemi, who returns from Africa with her new boyfriend, the rich and handsome Ben. But there’s something suspicious about Ben that Jong-su can’t quite put his finger on. Although it seems like a simple love triangle, Burningis a riveting production underpinned by a variety of subtexts. The film had its world premiere at Cannes.

 

 

WOMAN AT WAR (KONA FER Í STRÍÐ), 2018

Iceland |DCP, Color, 100' |Icelandic

Director: Benedikt Erlingsson
Cast: Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Jóhann Sigurðarson, Juan Camillo Roman Estrada

Halla is an environmental activist who risks everything she has in order to protect her country’s natural beauty. One by one, she sabotages power lines using a bow and arrow that she always carries with her. Nicknamed “The Woman of the Mountain” by the press, she does everything she can not to be caught. But when she learns that her application to adopt a child has been approved, she needs to revise all her plans. Set against the backdrop of Iceland’s stunning landscape, Woman at War touches upon current global issues with Nordic humor. A gripping tale of heroism that makes you think and smile at the same time.

 

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