What many Quebeckers want this weekend is for one of their own to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. They came close last year when Denis Villeneuve’s "Incendies" lost to the Danish film “In A Better World”.
This year’s five nominated films deserve to win for the simple reason that they all got this far. The nominees are:
- “A Separation” Iran
- “Bullhead” Belgium
- “Footnote” Israel
- “In Darkness” Poland
- “Monsieur Lazhar” Canada
“Monsieur Lazhar”, directed by Philippe Falardeau, is set in Montreal and tells the story of Bachir Lazhar, who is an Algerian refugee hired to take the place of an elementary school teacher who has committed suicide. As the students mourn their previous teacher’s death, Bachir tries to move on from the death of his wife, who was killed as a result of writing about some of Algeria’s social problems.
I haven’t seen all nomianted films in this category but I’m willing to make a prediction about the winner. I am not a movie critic but I have a hunch as to which one will have done what it takes to win: best lobbying.
Members of the Academy must see a movie in order to vote for it. This should go without saying yet not every member sees every nominated film - and that’s likely particularly true of foreign language films.
Lobbying, in this case, is akin to what political operatives call “getting the vote out” on election day. Studios and distributors will do whatever it takes to ensure voting members get to see their film. They arrange convenient screenings in L.A. and New-York and they’ll work the phones to get their movie seen.
Working the phones
Québec film producer Denise Robert, in an interview Radio-Canada aired recently, told of how Denys Arcand’s film Les Invasions Barbares won an Oscar in 2004 after losing to Osama at the Golden Globes. The film had been bought by Harvey Weistein after seeing it at Cannes. That night at the Golden Globe, Robert told Weinstein he’d better work the phones. He, and the powerful Miramax machine did, and Les Invasions Barbares won.
The nominees for Best Foreign Language Films last year were:
- “Biutiful” Mexico
- “Dogtooth” Greece
- “Outside the Law” Algeria
- “In a Better World” Denmark
- “Incendies” Canada
“In a Better World” won. It had something in common with “Incendies”. Both were acquired by Sonic Picture Classics.
With two nominated films, Sony Picture Classics apparently decided to pick a horse. For whatever reason (and I’m sure they were well calculated), they chose to lobby hard (harder) for “In a Better World”.
My prediction is therefore based on which film will likely lobby the hardest this year. I’d like to see “Monsieur Lazhar” win but it probably won’t. Its distributor, Music Box Films, likely doesn’t have Harvey Weinstein’s Rolodex or Sony Picture Classics’ muscle.
I’ll bet one of the two Sony Picture Classics films nominated this year will win; Iran’s “A Separation” or Poland’s “In Darkness” - but I'm still hopeful for "Monsieur Lazhar"
As Peter Knegt wrote in IndieWire, “making any assumption in this category is ill-advised.”