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The Oscars international race got off to a slow start this year, but it has now heated up with the submissions of crowd-pleasing films from Norway and Denmark, movies from past winners from Italy and Iran and a French submission that could shake up the race even if it horrifies as many voters as it thrills.
The latest big-name submission came on Tuesday, when the Italian selection committee announced the choice of “The Hand of God,” an autobiographical fantasia from director Paolo Sorrentino. His 2013 film “The Great Beauty” won the Oscar in what was then called the Best Foreign-Language Film category, since renamed Best International Feature Film.
Sorrentino’s film, which is distributed in the U.S. by Netflix, is immediately one of the favorites to land a nomination in a year without any dominant frontrunners like recent winners “Parasite” and “Roma.”
With less than a week until the Nov. 1 deadline for submissions, almost 70 countries have announced their official entries. The choice must be made by an Academy-accredited group within each country, and a country can only submit a single film to the Oscar race. Voting to produce a 15-film shortlist begins on Dec. 10, and within a couple of weeks Academy members who volunteer for the category will receive “required viewing” lists of films they must see. Only voters who see a minimum number of films (last year, it was 12) are allowed to vote.
So far, though, only four films are available to voters in the special AMPAS screening room devoted to the category: Germany’s “I’m Your Man,” which is expected to contend for a spot on the shortlist, as well as Kosovo’s “Hive,” Serbia’s “Oasis” and Ecuador’s “Submergible.”
Two of the strongest contenders were announced on Monday. Denmark selected Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s animated documentary “Flee,” which won raves at Sundance and could well become the third consecutive film to land nominations in both the international and documentary categories, after “Collective” and “Honeyland.” And Norway chose Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World,” for which actress Renate Reinsive won the best-actress award in Cannes.
Also formidable: Iran’s “A Hero,” from director Asghar Farhadi, who brought the country its only two Oscar wins with 2011’s “A Separation” and 2016’s “The Salesman”; Finland’s “Compartment No. 6,” which shared Cannes’ grand prize with “A Hero”; Japan’s “Drive My Car,” which won the screenplay award at the same festival; and two powerful films from female directors that screened in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section — Mexico’s “Prayers for the Stolen” by Tatiana Huezo and Russia’s “Unclenching the Fists” by Kira Kovalenko.
More daring choices include Colombia’s “Memoria,” with Tilda Swinton starring in the latest dreamscape from Cambodian auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who has never before made a film outside his home country; Iceland’s “Lamb,” a creepy fable starring Noomi Rapace; and Romania’s “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn,” which begins with a hard-core sex scene and ends with a 30-minute argument in which all the participants are wearing masks.
But the most provocative and riskiest entry might have come from France, which bypassed the more conventional Venice winner “Happening” in favor of Julia Ducournau’s “Titane,” one of the most buzzed-about and awarded movies of the year. It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and could become the third Palme d’Or winner to take the Best International Feature Film Oscar in the last decade – but it’s also so full of gore, sex, blood and motor oil that there’s virtually no precedent for a film that strange, graphic and disturbing being nominated.
It’s the kind of film that would have been tailor-made for the executive committee that used to meet and add three (typically challenging) films to the shortlist. But that committee no longer has the power to make those “saves,” so “Titane” will have to find enough fans among the general voters, which could be a stretch. (But with the shortlist expanded from 10 to 15 films last year, its chances are better than they once would have been.)
Other countries that made curious selections include Brazil, which went with “Private Desert” over the festival favorite “7 Prisoners”; Peru, which selected the indigenous film “Powerful Chief” over “Fever Dream” from Claudia Llosa, the director who got that country its only nomination with “The Milk of Sorrow” in 2009; and Spain, which chose Fernando Leon de Aranoa’s “The Good Boss” over Pedro Almodovar’s acclaimed “Parallel Mothers.” The last time Spain chose one of Leon de Aranoa’s films over one of Almodovar’s was 2002, when the selection committee went with “Mondays in the Sun,” which wasn’t nominated, over “Talk to Her,” which landed Almodovar an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and an additional nomination for Best Director.
Last year,the Oscars international race set a record with 93 qualifying films – and while it’s unlikely that the record will be threatened in this year of reduced production and fewer releases, the roster of contenders has grown substantially over the last two weeks and could end up topping 80.
Here are the films that have been announced so far. Inclusion on this list does not guarantee that the Academy will accept a film into the race – AMPAS must check each entry to make sure that it is predominantly non-English and that it has enough people from the submitting country in positions of creative control. But it’s rare for more than a handful of films to be disqualified
Albania: “Two Lions Heading to Venice,” Jonid Jorgj
Algeria: Heliopolis,” Djafar Gacem
Argentina: “The Intruder,” Natalia Mera
Armenia: “Should the Wind Drop,” Nora Martirosyan
Austria: “Great Freedom,” Sebastian Meise
Bangladesh: “Rehana,” Abdullah Mohammad Saad
Belgium: “Playground,” Laura Wandel
Bolivia: “The Great Movement,” Kira Russo
Bosnia and Herzegovina: “The White Fortress,” Igor Drljaca
Brazil: “Private Desert,” Aluy Muritiba
Bulgaria: “Fear,” Ivaylo Hristov
Cambodia: “White Building,” Kavich Neang
Canada: “Drunken Birds,” Ivan Grbovic
Colombia: “Memoria,” Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Costa Rica: “Clara Sola,” Nathalie Alvarez Mesen
Croatia: “Tereza37,” Danilo Serbedzija
Czech Republic: “Zatopek,” David Ondricek
Denmark: “Flee,” Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Ecuador: “Sumergible,” Alfredo Leon Leon
Estonia: “On the Water,”Peeter Simm
Finland: “Compartment No. 6,” Juho Kuosmanen
France: “Titane,” Julia Ducournau
Georgia: “Brighton 4th,” Levan Koguashvili
Germany: “I’m Your Man,” Maria Schrader
Greece: “Digger,” Georgis Grigorakis
Hong Kong: “Zero to Hero,” Jimmy Wan
Hungary: “Post Mortem,” Peter Beregendy
Iceland: “Lamb,”Valdimar Johansson
India: “Pebbles,” P.S. Vinothraj
Indonesia: “Yuni,” Kamila Andini
Iran: “A Hero,”Asghar Farhadi
Ireland: “Foscadh,” Sean Breathnach
Israel: “Let It Be Morning,” Eran Kolirin
Italy: “The Hand of God,” Paolo Sorrentino
Japan: “Drive My Car,” Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Kenya: “Mission to Rescue,” Gilbert Lukalia
Kosovo: “Hive,”Blerta Basholli
Kyrgyzstan: “Shambala,” Artykpai Suyundukov
Latvia: “The Pit,”Dace Puce
Lithuania: “The Jump,” Giedre Zickyte
Luxembourg: “Io sto bene,” Donato Rotunno
Malawi: “Fatsani: A Tale of Survival,” Gift Sukez Sukali
Malta: “Luzzu,” Alex Camilleri
Mexico: “Prayers for the Stolen,” Tatiana Huezo
Montenegro: “After the Winter,” Ivan Bakrac
Morocco: “Casablanca Beats,” Nabil Ayouch
Netherlands: “Do Not Hesitate,”Shariff Korver
North Macedonia: “Sisterhood,” Dina Duma
Norway: “The Worst Person in the World,” Joachim Trier
Palestine: “The Stranger,”Ameer Fakher Eldin
Paraguay: “Nothing But the Sun,” Arami Ullon
Peru: “Powerful Chief,”Henry Vallejo
Poland: “Leave No Traces,”Jan P. Matuszyński
Romania: “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn,” Radu Jude
Russia: “Unclenching the Fists,” Kira Kovalenko
Serbia: “Oasis,”Ivan Ikic
Slovakia: “107 Mothers,”Peter Kerekes
Slovenia: “Sanremo,” Miroslav Mandic
Somalia: “The Gravedigger’s Wife,” Khadar Ahmed
South Korea: “Escape From Mogadishu,”Ryoo Seung-wan
Spain: “The Good Boss,”Fernando Leon de Aranoa
Sweden: “Tigers,” Ronnie Sandahl
Switzerland: “Olga,” Eli Grappe
Taiwan: “The Falls,” Chung Mong-hong
Tunisia: “Golden Butterfly,” Abdelhamid Bouchnak
Ukraine: “Bad Roads,” Natalia Vorozhbyt
Uruguay: “The Broken Glass Theory,” Diego Fernandez