Foreign language films at the Oscars

Published 25th February 2013
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The Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, as with any Oscar, is a coveted prize in the film industry. This award can often mean the difference between limited success in smaller circles and international fame.

The 2013 winner is a French-Language film called ‘Amour’, which tells the story of the last few weeks that an elderly couple spend together before the wife’s death. The film is directed by Austrian Michael Haneke, who is native German, however the film’s leads are both well-known French actors.

This film was in the running against four other international entries, each with unique points to appeal to the foreign language film enthusiast. From Norway came ‘Kon-Tiki’; from Chile, ‘No’, from Denmark ‘A Royal Affair’ and from Canada ‘War Witch’. All five films in the category seemed to be strong contenders for the prize, however ‘Amour’ appeared as the favourite in many articles leading up to Sunday night’s festivities.

Amour was also nominated for Best Picture – only the 9th Foreign language film to receive this prestigious nod. I was surprised to learn that the category for Best Foreign Language film has actually only been around since 1957 and during this time only five foreign language films have been nominated for Best Picture at the same time – none have ever won Best Picture (although three that were multilingual have won). In evidence apparently every film nominated for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film has lost the former but won the latter!

Some are outraged that other Foreign Language films did not make the cut – but with so many submissions and only one final choice taken from each country, the choice is a difficult one for the powers-that-be. Learning languages at school and again in university, watching foreign films is strongly encouraged; in fact it is an integral part of improvement as it helps to immerse the learner in the foreign language and develop their aural skills, which in turn can help with pronunciation. I have therefore developed a love for films in other languages, be it one I understand or not. Though subtitles tend to be a little distracting, there is so much that we can miss out on if we don’t watch films from other countries.

There are similar story lines in any country and what is also interesting is that many foreign films tend to be the spark for an English-language remake! One that comes to mind for me is ‘The Last Kiss’ – a perhaps not-so-famous American reinvention of the original Italian ‘L’ultimo Bacio’. During my year abroad, courtesy of the extensive university film library, I was able to watch this and many other films. Having already seen the hollywood Zach Braff remake, I was intrigued to experience the original and I have to say I was amazed at how much better a version it was. Everything was, in my humble opinion, far superior and this made me contemplate once again why foreign language films get so little recognition.

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