24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Foreign-language Oscar

Around Town: Superman flies again and the New Wave returns

December 1, 2011 |  7:00 am


A Francois Truffaut retrospective, an animation festival and a screening of 1978’s “Superman” are among this week’s highlights.

The American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre celebrates the legacy of one of the founders of France’s New Wave cinema, Francois Truffaut, who died at the age of 52 in 1984. “The Film Lover: A Francois Truffaut Retrospective” commences Friday evening with his first feature film, 1959’s “The 400 Blows,” his critically acclaimed autobiographical drama about a troubled young boy, Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud in a stunning performance). The second feature is Truffaut’s third entry in the Antoine Doinel series, the 1968 romantic comedy “Stolen Kisses,” with Leaud and Delphine Seyrig.

Truffaut pays homage to one of his icons, Alfred Hitchcock, in his 1968 mystery thriller “The Bride Wore Black,” starring Jeanne Moreau in the title role, which screens Saturday. Also on tap is his 1962 masterwork, “Jules and Jim” with Moreau and Oskar Werner. The retrospective concludes Sunday with his 1960 film noir, “Shoot the Piano Player” with Charles Aznavour, and 1980’s World War II drama “The Last Metro,” with Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve. http://www.americancinematheque.com

Cinefamily’s Silent Movie Theatre gets highly animated this week. The “Animation Breakdown” begins with “An Evening With Don Hertzfeldt” on Thursday, featuring the L.A. premiere of his latest animated short, “It’s Such a Beautiful Day.” The filmmaker will be appearing in person. On Friday, Cinefamily shines the spotlight on Polish animation with several shorts by noted animators including an exclusive presentation of the Brothers Quays’ latest film, “Maska.” Saturday afternoon’s offering is a sneak preview of Pixar’s newest short film, “La Luna,” six months before its theatrical release. Later in the afternoon, Cinefamily presents a cast and crew reunion of the Cartoon Network series “Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.”

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Foreign-language Oscars: Marston's Albania film deemed ineligible

October 14, 2011 | 12:25 pm

American filmmaker Joshua Marston knew from the beginning that making his second feature "The Forgiveness of Blood" in Albania would be a challenge. The film, which received a Silver Bear for screenwriting at the Berlin Film Festival, depicts a family feud between two neighboring families in the southeastern European country. In an effort to make the film as authentic to its locale as possible,  Marston wrote the script with Albanian Andamion Murataj and says he hired as many Albanian crew and cast members as possible.  

But in the end it wasn't enough for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which deemed the film ineligible for the foreign-language Oscar race because it had extensive participation from non-Albanians. The academy has forced the Albanian film committee to choose another film as its official choice for the foreign-language category, and it selected Bujar Alimani's "Amnesty."

The move has frustrated Marston, who when reached by phone in New York on Thursday afternoon said it is impossible to film in Albania without using crew members from other nations.

“In Albania, there isn't a big film industry so all the films shot there bring in crew. Every movie made in Albania uses a DP [director of photography] from outside the country, same is true of editors, and sound mixers. You can’t judge whether the film is Albanian based on the crew list. We tried to employ as many Albanians as we could."

Marston did have one Albanian heading a department -- the costume designer. Marston argues that in order to offset the fact that he's not Albanian, he relied on creative participation from lower-level Albanian crew members. "For example, the production designer was more reliant on all the people in his department, creatively, to make sure that things looked and felt Albanian.”

Mark Johnson, a producer who heads up the Foreign Language Committee at the academy, says that while he feels for Marston's plight, there are strict rules in place to ensure that countries don't try to game the system.

“In a perfect world, this category wouldn’t exist and it wouldn’t matter what language the film is in," said Johnson. "But it's an imperfect world and we have to have some rules in place.”

The committee, he says, places particular emphasis on the nationality of the film's director.

“We believe that the director is the most important creative element in making a film and we give enormous weight to the nationality of the director," said Johnson, who is currently in Northern California working on Curtis Hanson's surf movie "Mavericks." "In the abstract, if it were just a director who wasn’t from the submitting country but all the other key creative controls were local artists or filmmakers, there’s a good possibility we would have accepted that film.”

Alas, that was not the case with "The Forgiveness of Blood," which IFC Films will unveil in the U.S. later this year. Not only is Marston from the United States but his producer, Paul Mezey, is as well. Marston's collaborator Murataj, who worked closely with Marston on the project since its inception, received a co-producer credit on the film, but the academy only recognizes the full producer credit. 

Marston said that Artan Minarolli, head of the Albanian National Center for Cinematography, had a few lengthy conversations with the academy to ensure that choosing "Forgiveness of Blood," which was shot entirely in Albania, in the Albanian language, would fulfill the foreign-language requirements. Minarolli did not return call for comment.

Said Marston: "I don't know if the academy realizes how frustrated people in Albania are. They are sad and disappointed and disenchanted with the process."

Once the country's choice was ruled ineligible,the members of Albania's film committee reconvened and chose Alimani's "Amnesty." Alimani had previously written a letter to the academy decrying his nation's film choice of "Forgiveness," arguing that an American's film should not be eligible as the country's selection.

Johnson said Alimani's letter didn't influence his committee's decision.

It's the second such experience for Marston. His debut effort, "Maria Full of Grace," was chosen by Colombia as its entry in 2004, but it was also ruled ineligible. He said he finds the rules dogmatic.

“I don't understand why the academy is in the business of adjudicating the citizenship of a film. Why can’t the submitting countries be given the authority and autonomy to decide for themselves what films best represent them? Why would it be so threatening to the process of the academy to let that happen?”


Christian Bale film among 63 vying for foreign-language Oscar

Oscar submission deadline for foreign-language films

Joshua Marston heads for farther shores

--Nicole Sperling

Photo credit: Joshua Marston at the Toronto International Film Festival. Credit: Aaron Harris/Getty Images


Reluctantly, an Iranian director becomes a symbol

October 3, 2011 |  7:50 pm

Asghar Farhadi takes a deep breath and wonders how to answer a simple question: "Are you happy?"

"That's a good question," the director said. And then he waits, leaving it unanswered.

It's been that kind of year for Iranian cinema, and its 39-year-old rising star in particular. Last winter, Farhadi swept the prizes at the Berlin Film Festival  with his buzzy drama "A Separation," taking, among others, the coveted Golden Bear. Then Farhadi watched as his country's cinema took a staggering blow when the filmmaker and cultural icon Jafar Panahi was handed a 20-year filmmaking ban.
"I'm very upset," Farhadi said, via a translator, of his reaction to the Panahi news. "For you and all your readers he's a filmmaker, but for me he's a friend. And he's a friend who can't do what he was born to do."

Farhadi is sitting in a hotel room on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It's just 24 hours before the New York Film Festival premiere of "A Separation,"  which already has garnered buzz as a foreign-language Oscar contender. The film has been submitted by Iran to the motion picture academy; if it lands a nomination, it would mark only the second time  that  the country will be on the  foreign-language Oscar ballot, in the process thrusting the society governed by  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the fore of film's award season.

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Oscar submission deadline for foreign-language films is today

October 3, 2011 |  3:22 pm

Joshua Marston

The Academy Awards may be five months off, but the race for best foreign language film is well under way. Monday marked the deadline for countries to submit a film to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for consideration for the February 2012 Oscars.

So far, more than 40 films have been entered, and more were expected to squeak in at the last minute in a contest that is already generating some controversies.

The foreign-language category is often rife with disputes, both at the country level (as various pictures compete for the one slot), and after the selections are submitted to the academy. Last year, for instance, there was an uproar in Italy after it put forth “The First Beautiful Thing” as its submission over the better known “I Am Love,” starring Tilda Swinton. In 2008, there was a flap when the Academy committee that whittles down the selections to a short list avoided controversial, well-regarded films like Romania’s “4 months, 3 weeks and 2 Days” and France’s “Persepolis.”

Though the 20-member executive committee will not start reviewing the submissions until later this week, several scuffles have already broken out.

Russia submitted “Burnt by the Sun 2: Citadel,” a big-budget spectacle that was both a critical and commercial misfire in the country. The head of Russia's selection committee, filmmaker Vladimir Menshov, didn’t agree with his committee’s choice and has urged “Burnt” filmmaker Nikita Mikalhkov to pull out of the competition in favor of other better-regarded features. But the Oct. 1 deadline for such a move passed without any apparent concession from Mikalhkov.

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Toronto 2011: 'Dogtooth' director is back with 'Alps'

September 19, 2011 | 12:30 pm

Alps_02_large  There may be no flat-out stranger movie in the annals of the Academy Awards than the Greek film "Dogtooth," a nominee in the foreign language category this past season. (The film, about a couple who imprison and torture their children, created waves last year; some critics disliked its explicitness and (very) black comedy,  and many theaters wouldn't book it.)

Director Yorgos Lanthimos is back on the festival circuit with his new film "Alps," which just had its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Enigmatic and seemingly allegorical in a manner similar to that of "Dogtooth," Lanthimos' new film is no simple repeat performance. This time out, a small group of people, part club and part business, substitute for recently deceased loved ones in an attempt to ease the grieving process for family members. Equal measure absurdist comedy and deeply felt drama, the film builds a startling emotional momentum. (Slight spoilers ahead, though there is really no explaining nor spoiling Lanthimos' storytelling.)

Co-written by Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou, who also collaborated on "Dogtooth," "Alps" won the prize for best screenplay following its recent world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival. We  caught up with Lanthimos for a few minutes at Toronto's Bell Lightbox theater facility Friday as he came out of a screening of "Outside Satan," the new film by French art-house titan Bruno Dumont. His initial response to the film? "Well, I have to think about it."

The way you're talking about the Bruno Dumont film you just saw is similar to the way people talk about your films.

This is not similar. It's not like you have to figure out stuff. [With Dumont] you have to figure out if you're OK with it. I try as much as I can to leave room for people to discover things on their own and start thinking about stuff and not have one particular view on things or try to force a perspective or an opinion. I try to be precise about what I want to investigate, but the results I leave to people.

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Around Town: Italian Neorealism, the comedy of Albert Brooks, Terrence Malick and more

May 19, 2011 |  5:00 am

GardenItaly's Vittorio De Sica earned a reputation as one of Neorealism's most accomplished filmmakers, a man who frequently collaborated with screen siren Sophia Loren. His Academy Award-winning 1971 film "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis," screens Thursday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater. The screening marks the premiere of a newly restored print of the film, which follows the lives of a wealthy Italian Jewish family oblivious to the fact that fascism is engulfing their lives. The film's producer, Arthur Cohn, is the special guest. www.oscars.org

The Bigfoot Crest Theater this weekend adds repertory programming to its schedule with two new monthly series. The first, Singafest Asian Film Nights, begins Thursday with a screening of a 35-millimeter print of the Akira Kurosawa 1961 classic "Yojimbo," with Toshiro Mifune. That will be followed by the first installment of another new monthly series, "Spirits in the Dark: Horror at the Crest," which kicks off with a sneak preview of the horror thriller "The Whisperer in Darkness." www.bigfootcrest.com

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'Incendies' director to take 'Prisoners,' a vigilante thriller

April 22, 2011 |  2:40 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Denis Villeneuve is getting strong reviews for "Incendies," his story of Canadian emigres who return to the Middle East to track down family secrets after their mother dies. He could soon reach an even wider audience.

The French Canadian director has landed the gig to direct "Prisoners," a vigilante thriller that's set up with Warner Bros. and "The Blind Side" producer Alcon Entertainment, according to a person who was briefed on the project but not authorized to talk publicly about it. Alcon principal and "Prisoners" producer Andrew Kosove confirmed that Villeneuve will come aboard and called "Incendies" "the best movie made last year, in my opinion."

Based on Aaron Guzikowski's Black List script, "Prisoners" tells of a working-class Boston father whose young daughter is kidnapped, along with her friend. Frustrated by a local detective's handling of the case, the father takes as a hostage the man he believes committed the crimes. The movie would mark the English-language debut for Villeneuve, who has earned acclaim for the three features that preceded "Incendies." The Black List is an annual compendium of Hollywood’s top unproduced screenplays.

Various stars have been attached to "Prisoners" since the project was first put into active development in 2009, with Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale at one point lined up to play the father and the detective, respectively. "Training Day" director Antoine Fuqua was on board to direct "Prisoners" before he left to helm another film.

Leonardo DiCaprio had been attached to star, but his involvement was considered fluid before a director came on board, and Kosove said DiCaprio won’t be joining the project. "He’s a very talented actor but this process of choosing a director outside the three or four he normally works with became too time consuming," Kosove said. "I don’t think it will happen with Leonardo." The project is seeking other cast members, he said, and aims to shoot in the fall.

Vigilante-flavored missing-children stories have been a hot commodity since the blockbuster success of "Taken" two years ago. "Prisoners" also fits squarely with "Incendies," which similarly combines the conventions of family drama and a thriller. That movie was a hit at the Toronto International Film Festival and earned an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film before opening commercially this weekend.


Movie Review: Incendies

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Incendies." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Exclusive clip: Susanne Bier looks to create a better world

March 29, 2011 | 11:59 pm

Few personalities provided a burst of fresh air this award season as much as Susanne Bier. With a mix of European artistry and American-style populism, the Danish director managed to bridge the gap between entertainment and cinema. And that was just in interviews.

"Many European filmmakers alienate the audience," the director told 24 Frames after she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her foreign-language drama “In a Better World,” which went on to win that award as well as an Oscar. "They don't think about engaging people."

The new movie from Bier, who previously gained acclaim for war picture “Brothers” and comic melodrama “After the Wedding,” opens this weekend in limited release. It’s an intimate story about two boys in rural Denmark who form a friendship, and also touches on larger themes of pacifism and violence. In the exclusive clip below, one of the boys goads his father, an avowed pacifist, to exact retribution on an auto mechanic who verbally abused him.

-- Steven Zeitchik



Pierce Brosnan will collaborate with Susanne Bier

A modern Scandinavian takes on Bergman

Foreign-language nominees protray true grittiness


'Dogtooth' director: My new movie will be darker and more extreme

March 8, 2011 |  2:12 pm


Yorgos Lanthimos, the Greek director of the film "Dogtooth" -- about a couple who imprison and torture their children -- created waves when his movie was released last year. Some critics shook their heads at the film's explicitness and (very) black comedy, and many theaters wouldn't book it. The motion picture academy surprised many when it nominated the movie for an Oscar.

Turns out Lanthimos isn't done yet.

The filmmaker tells 24 Frames he's just completed a new movie that could make "Dogtooth" look like, well, "Air Bud." Titled "Alps," it centers on a group of people who agree to stand in for others' lost loved ones , replicating their behavior and gestures to help with the mourners' grieving. (Think pet owners who stuff their animals, only with people.)

"It's darker and funnier. It goes to each extreme a little bit more," Lanthimos said. Aggeliki Papoulia, who plays one of the daughters in "Dogtooth," also stars in the new film.

Lanthimos is editing "Alps" now and hopes to have it ready in time for this year's edition of the Cannes film festival, where "Dogtooth" launched and won a prize in 2009. Get your umbrella ready.

--Steven Zeitchik



Foreign-language nominees portray true grittiness

Pierce Brosnan will collaborate with Oscar winner Susanne Bier

A modern Scandinavian takes on Bergman

Photo: "Dogtooth." Credit: Kino Lorber

'The Secret in their Eyes' could be whispered to English-language audiences

October 6, 2010 |  5:30 pm

EXCLUSIVE: "The Secret in Their Eyes" found a surprisingly large audience in the United States before, and largely after, it won the foreign-language Oscar. Juan Jose Campanella's dramatic thriller garnered more than $6 million in domestic box office and a wide base of critical support.

Now it could really broaden its audience.

Warner Bros. is in final negotiations to acquire remake rights to the film and develop an English-language version. The production would bring on Hollywood veteran Billy Ray to write and direct the picture. (Ray directed "Shattered Glass" and "Breach" and wrote "Flightplan" and the upcoming "24" movie.) Campanella, who wrote, directed, produced and edited the original, is also expected to be involved in the new version as a producer, after John Ufland, who represents Campanella, brought the film to the studio.

The Argentine film, "El Secreto De Sus Ojos" in its native Spanish, is a crime thriller told in flashback about a policeman confounded by the brutal murder of a young woman. There's a strong narrative backbone to the story, which should help with a more commercially minded remake. But with much of the action taking place in 1974 against the backdrop of the country's military junta, it could also pose some translation challenges. (Filmmakers have yet to decide whether to find American parallels to, or de-emphasize the salient aspects of, the movie's political themes.)

Foreign-language remakes have had a mini-renaissance in Hollywood, particularly where Sweden is concerned, as "Let Me In," "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and "Snabba Cash" all have gotten or are getting American redos.

A number of foreign-language Oscar nominees over the years also have been given the remake treatment ("Three Men & a Cradle" and "Scent of a Woman" among them). But among the winners, recent attempts, such as "The Lives of Others," have stalled. Two Federico Fellini-directed winners either inspired a new film ("8 1/2" became "Nine") or gave birth to a more direct remake (Bob Fosse's "Sweet Charity" was based on Fellini's screenplay for "The Nights of Cabiria").  But "Cabiria" won the Oscar back in...1957. It might be time for a new secret.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "The Secret in their Eyes." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics


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