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The Foreigners of the Oscars

 

January 16-30, 2020

As the 92nd Academy Awards Ceremony is fast approaching, Istanbul Modern Cinema focuses on the “Best International Feature” category, which until last year was titled “Best Foreign Language Film”. These films from 93 countries that have applied to the closely contested Oscar racebelong to an autonomous category that represents different geographies and cultures that are still the “other” to Hollywood despite having been nominated for the Oscars and have been shown at and won awards from various festivals across the world.

 

 

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MONOS,2019

Colombia | DCP, Color, 10”2’ | English, Spanish

Director: Alejandro Landes

Cast: Sofia Buenaventura, Julián Giraldo, Karen Quintero

A group of young soldiers have been commissioned to hold an American woman hostage and to protect a cow at the expense of their lives on a remote mountaintop surrounded by steep rocks. Going through commando training during the day, the group has fun at nighttime. However, when they are suddenly ambushed and dragged into an endless forest, their trust in one another will be severely challenged. In his third film, the director Landes creates a fairy-tale world in which the audience is faced with an unforgettable visual feast and a breathtaking tension-filled struggle for survival. In 2019, the film won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award at Sundance and the Sebastiane Award at the San Sebastián International Film Festival.

 

 

PARASITE (GISAENGCHUNG),2019

South Korea | DCP, Color, 132’ | Korean

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Cast: Kang-ho Song, Yeo-jeong Jo, So-dam Park

Parasite from master director Bong Joon-ho became one of the most talked about films of the year after it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. As he did in his former films, the director merges a variety of genres such as drama, comedy, violence and suspense with great success in Parasite. This time Joon-ho focuses on the inter-class differences through the interaction of the poor Kim family, who live in difficult conditions in a humid basement, and the wealthy Park family, who live in a luxurious home in prosperity. Kim family’s life is transformed after their son Ki-woo is offered a new job. Ki-woo is to give private English lessons to the daughter of the Park family, and through various tricks, Ki-woo ensures that the rest of his family members are also recruited at the Parks. However, the lives of both families will be transformed and not in the way they expect. Parasite won the Palme d’Or at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival and the Best Film in a Foreign Language prize at the 77th Golden Globes.

 

 

PAIN AND GLORY (DOLOR Y GLORIA), 2019

Spain | DCP, Color, 113’ | Spanish

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz, Asier Etxeandia,

Salvador Mallo is a middle-aged director who has lost his appetite for life and his old energy. Deep down he knows that he needs to get back to cinema in order to get out of his depressed psychological state. When Salvador learns that the film he once shot is going to be shown again at the cinema, he embarks on a mental journey in which he remembers his childhood, his relationship with his mother, his old friendships and loves since his passion for cinema began. As he contemplates his past, the people he meets and situations he encounters in the present will assist him in finding himself again. Master director Pedro Almodóvar’s 21th film, which can be considered as his own life story, won several awards at various festivals and brought its leading actor Antonio Banderas, the Best Actor award in Cannes.

 

 

HONEYLAND, 2019

North Macedonia | DCP, Color, 87’ | Turkish, Macedonian

Director: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubo Stefanov

Cast: Hatice Muratova, Nazife Muratova, Hussein Sam

Hatice Muratova is a beekeper woman who lives with her old mother in a deserted mountain village with no electricity. Hatice sells half of the honey produced by the bees and leaves the remaining half to the bees to ensure sustainability. However, the order Hatice keeps begins to falter after another family arrives and settles into the village. This noisy family is miles away from respecting the rythym of nature and Hatice’s ongoing living arrangements, and the contradiction posed between Hatice’s approach to nature and life and that of this family becomes a micro-scale manifestation of the capitalist order that does not abstain from destroying nature for material gain. Filmed over three years, Honeyland attracted attention with its cinematography, and returned with praise and several awards from festivals around the world after it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

 

 

INVISIBLE LIFE (A VIDA INVISÍVEL)

Brazil | DCP, Color, 139’ | Portugese, Greek

Director: Karim Aïnouz

Cast: Fernanda Montenegro, Carol Duarte, Julia Stockler

Director Karim Aïnouz, known for his unique cinema in Brazil, takes viewers on a journey to the Rio de Janeiro of the 1950s. Two daughters of a macho father, Eurídice and Guida daydream of leaving home in pursuit of their dreams. Eurídice wants to go to Vienna to become a renowned pianist while her little sister Guida wants to find true love... After sneaking out from home to meet with her boyfriend one night, Guida sends her family a letter to let them know that she is going to Greece to get married. When she is back home, she has no boyfriend but she is pregnant. Her father, being the strict person he is, rejects Guida, not letting her come home and also lying about her older sister Eurídice’s whereabouts.   

The film, which received a Un Certain Regard Award in Cannes this year, creates a unique world of emotion with its colors, sound design and music.

 

 

AND THEN WE DANCED, 2019

Sweden | DCP, Color, 113’ | Georgian

Director:Levan Akin

Cast: Levan Gelbakhiani, Bachi Valishvili, Ana Javakishvili

Selected as this year’s Oscar entry from Sweden, And Then We Danced, is a production that Georgian director Levan Akin was inspired to make after the attacks during the Pride Walk in Tbilisi in 2013. Professional dancer Merab, like many others in his family, is a traditional Georgian folk dance performer. Merab trains hard and tirelessly to become a better dancer with his strict teacher, who pushes him at every opportunity and never avoids his harsh criticism. The young man’s life will be forever changed following the sudden arrival of Irakli, a fellow male dancer. Although at first Merab sees Irakli as competition, soon he falls for this charismatic man. Akin asserts, “I wanted to show that there wasn’t any contradiction in loving your heritage, being part of your culture, and also breaking the norm.”

 

 

THE WHISTLERS (LA GOMERA), 2019

Romania | DCP, Color, 97’ | Romanian, English

Director: Corneliu Porumboiu

Cast: Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Rodica Lazar

Known for his films that merge observational realism with black humor, Romanian new wave director Corneliu Porumboiu delivers an action-filled detective film that was selected as the Oscar entry from Romania. Whistle blower police officer Cristi is sent to the Canary Islands to free Zsolt, a mafia boss from prison and to find the stolen money. In order to ensure that no one can follow what is happening here, he is asked to learn the whistling language specific to the region. The person who convinces Cristi to go on this mission is Gilda, the irresistible femme fatale of the film. The themes that Porumboiu have addressed since his first film such as what language discloses and conceals, the oppressive Ceaușescu regime, and loyalty are again present in this film albeit examined from different angles.

With the Contributions of 

 

 

LES MISÉRABLES, 2019

France | DCP, Color, 102’ | French

Director: Ladj Ly

Cast: Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djibril Zonga

The Oscar nominee from France this year is named after Victor Hugo's classic novel Les Misérables. Director Ladj Ly tells the story of a crime and conscience by adapting the novel's theme of revolution and rebellion in the broken social order to current day suburbs of Paris as he follows three police officers patrolling the neighborhood of Les Bosquets, which is known for its high crime rates. Team leader Chris and his African partner Gwada who are joined by Stéphane for the first time, learn that a baby lion has been stolen from the Roma circus in this eventful neighborhood. In order to maintain the easily rising tension between the antagonistic groups of the neighborhood, the team sets off and even finds the kid who stole the baby lion, but end up causing more harm due to their own aggressive attitude. The director’s first feature length film, Les Misérables won the Jury Award in Cannes.

With the Contributions of 

 

 

SYSTEM CRASHER (SYSTEMSPRENGER), 2019

Germany| DCP, Color, 118’ | German

Director: Nora Fingscheidt

Cast: Helena Zengel, Albrecht Schuch, Gabriela Maria Schmeide

Benni is a nine year-old untamed girl. With two other young children other than Benni, her mother, who is unable to find the strength to take care of this girl ends up giving her to child protection services. Wherever Benni goes, she has tantrums and violent outbursts, but no one can handle her, despite their good intentions. Micha, whose real specialty is working with adolescents, believes that the best cure for Benni is to introduce her to nature. In her first feature length film, which was awarded the Silver Bear at the Berlinale, Nora Fingscheidt portrays how feelings of empathy and sense of responsibility end up pushing each other in opposite directions.

With the Contributions of 

 

 

IT MUST BE HEAVEN, 2019

Palestine| DCP, Color, 97’ | English, French, Arabic

Director: Elia Suleiman

Cast: Elia Suleiman, Gael García Bernal, Ali Suliman

Elia Suleiman’s first feature length film, following a long hiatus, It Must Be Heaven competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and won the Special Mention award. The film’s protagonist ES, played by the director, and who the director created as some sort of an alter ego for himself, embarks on a journey to raise funds for a new project all the while he searches for a homeland. Starting his journey from Nazareth, a city of Palestine, the director’s homeland, ES goes to Paris to meet with a producer, who ends up rejecting the project, claiming that it isn’t “Palestinian enough.” On the other hand, the driver of the taxi he is riding is extremely excited to be driving a true Palestinian. Wherever ES goes, his homeland Palestine follows and puts him into absurd situations. Suleiman investigates issues of exile, the absurdity of nationalism and identity politics in this film he devotes to Palestine. 

 

 

WHEN TOMATOES MET WAGNER, 2019

Greece| DCP, Color, 73’ | Greek

Director: Marianna Economou

We are in a small Greek village where each of the thirty-three inhabitants makes a living through organic agriculture. We see Alecco, head of operations of production and packaging, and his neighbor Christos carrying huge speakers to the middle of the tomato field. Discussing whether classical music or traditional Greek music would be better for the crop, they finally decide to try both. Alecco, who enjoys telling stories, shares the history of the 500-year-old seeds they use to those around him during the packaging of these tomato purees, which they import from these humble plants to people around the world. This candid documentary, which made its premiere at the Berlinale, as part of the “Culinary Cinema” category, addresses the issue of agriculture and organic production in a globalizing world, and manages to approach a global issue with a language that warms one’s heart through the sincere and personal experiences of its friendly characters.

With the Contributions of 

 

 

 

INCITEMENT (YAMİM NORAİM), 2019

Israel| DCP, Color, 123’ | Hebrew

Director: Yaron Zilberman

Cast: Yehuda Nahari Halevi, Amitay Yaish Ben Ousilio, Anat Ravnitzki

Yaron Zilberman, who made a successful debut with his first feature A Late Quartet, now brings a real event to the screen. We follow the process that brought Yigal Amir, a Yemeni law student, who committed the assassination of Izak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister at the time, to the point of murder in 1995. We witness Yigal Amir on the road to this assassination, which changed the destiny of the Middle East, and how he is indirectly provoked by orthodox rabbis, who convince him that murder and revenge can indeed be justified. Using a striking language, Zilberman highlights the impact of leaders on the psychologically imbalanced individuals in society in Incitement, which made its world premiere in Toronto before going on to win the Best Film award of the Israeli Film Academy.

With the Contributions of 

 

 

DEAR SON, 2018

Tunisia, Belgium, France, Qatar | DCP, Color, 104’ | Arabic

Director: Mohammed Ben Attia

Cast: Mohamed Dhrif, Mouna Mejri, Zakaria Ben Ayyed

Tunisian director Mohammed Ben Attia focuses on the poignant story of a father and son, in his second feature length film. The Riadh and Nazlı couple is ready to do anything for the 19 year-old Sami, their only son. Despite financial difficulties, Riadh and Nazlı work with all their strength to provide for the necessary medical assistance for Sami who is struggling with frequent headaches. However, Sami suddenly disappears. They are devastated when they find out that their son has joined a jihadist organization in Syria. At the expense of mobilizing all his means, Riadh sets out on the road in the hope of finding Sami. In Dear Son, Ben Attia focuses on the impact of loss on those who are left behind and their relationships more so than Sami who runs away to join an organization.

 

 

THE PAINTED BIRD,2019
Czech Republic | DCP, Black-White, 169’ | Czech, Russian, German
Director: Václav Marhoul
Cast: Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier, Harvey Keitel, Barry Pepper

A Jewish boy, orphaned during the Second World War, embarks on an uncharted journey across the villages of Eastern Europe to survive. Throughout his journey, he will be subjected to meaningless violence and torture by various people living in the shadow of war, and will find himself struggling for existence in some kind of hell. Adapted from Jerzy Kosiński’s controversial novel with the same title, the film portrays a cruel world that exposes the dark and gruesome side of human nature through Vladimir Smutny’s exceptionally beautiful 35mm black and white cinematography. Harvey Keitel, Stellan Skarsgård and Udo Kier are among the names that stand out in the film’s cast.

* The sexual / violent content in some of the scenes in this film may disturb some viewers.

 

 

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