Jean-Louis Tintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, Alexandre Tharaud
(Sony Pictures Classics; US theatrical: 19 Dec 2012 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 16 Nov 2012 (General release); 2011)
A lot has been said about the fact that in 2012—more than any other year before it—the number of submissions for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar defied expectations. A total of 71 films were submitted by countries ranging from Albania to Venezuela. Countries like Kenya entered their movies into the competition for the first time. But before nominations were even announced the race had come down to two movies: Amour and The Intouchables.
One is the Palme d’Or winning-crowning jewel in the career of one of the most respected auteurs in the world, the other is France’s biggest moneymaker of all time. One is a harsh look at old age, often cruel, never dishonest; the other, is a buddy movie that appropriates Hollywood values like white guilt filtered by a lovable “magical Negro” and “based on a true story” conventions. One was directed by the man who first broke into the scene by making a movie about a soulless boy who murders a girl, the other is a feel good hit backed by The Weinstein Company.
On the surface it was almost too obvious to guess that The Intouchables had this one in the bag. It was unselfconsciously harmless in the same denigrating way in which The Blind Side captured the hearts of the Academy in 2009 and in the face of having to pick a movie about “death” vs. a feel good movie about overcoming adversity, we all have seen what AMPAS usually goes for… Yet when nominations were announced a collective gasp was felt when France’s entry was snubbed and we ended up with one of the greatest lineups this category has ever seen.
With The Intouchables out of the way, it looks as if Amour has already won this, especially when you consider how it received nominations for Best Picture, Director, Actress and Screenplay and yes, maybe the movie doesn’t really have any strong competition but if it lost, it wouldn’t be the first time an upset of this kind occurred in the category (think of the multi-nominated Amélie and Pan’s Labyrinth which lost to movies with a single nomination).
For now though, Amour’s fiercest competition might be Denmark’s A Royal Affair a costume drama reminiscent of previous winners like Nowhere in Africa, Belle Epoque and Antonia’s Line that exposes a love triangle between King Christian VII, his wife and the king’s physician. This handsome drama features international superstar Mads Mikkelsen and won the Best Actor Award at the Berlin Film Festival for the great Mikkel Følsgaard who plays the king.
At that festival, Rachel Mwanza of the also nominated War Witch won the Best Actress award, making this one of the few times in which almost all nominees came from international film festivals. Pablo Larraín’s wonderful No, which had a great run at the Cannes Film Festival, became Chile’s first nominated movie, after two of Larraín’s previous works were snubbed by the Academy.
The film deals with the television advertising campaign that defeated Pinochet in the early 1980’s and stars Gael García Bernal as the ad mastermind behind the operation. Unlike Larraín’s other movies, No is much more accessible, enjoyable even, and for once the young director uses his superb aesthetics in the service of a story that demands them. No might be the second best movie in the category.
Rounding up the competition is Norway’s sprawling maritime adventure Kon-Tiki, the country’s most expensive movie, which is also the only pure crowdpleasing entry in the category as it dramatizes the adventures of explorer Thor Heyerdahl as he made his way from Peru to the Polynesian islands trying to prove one of his theories. The Norwegian film was also nominated for a Golden Globe.