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by Veronica Stone

With the Oscar race officially underway, countries from all over the world have submitted the film that they would like to represent them at the 89th Academy Awards. There’s a total of 85 films that will be further narrowed down by several Academy foreign committees, comprised of members from all branches who will come to a shortlist. The five Oscar nominees will be revealed when all of the nominations are announced on January 24th, 2017. The winner of the category, created in 1956, will be announced during the Oscar ceremony on February 26th, 2017. (Last year’s winner was Cannes favorite Son of Saul, directed by Hungarian Lazlo Nemes). While it would be too long to list all 85 films submitted, here are some that have already been making the festival rounds and show great promise and a good chance at making the final cut:


Italy’s entry is Fire at Sea, a documentary directed by Gianfranco Rosi dealing with the European migrant crisis. The film won the Golden Bear at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival. It was shot on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa during the European migrant crisis, with countless people crossing the Mediterranean every day. Fire at Sea focuses on a twelve year old boy from a local fishing family and a doctor who treats the newly arrived migrants.


Switzerland is the only country this year to submit an animated film (stop motion animation) titled My Life as a Zucchini by Claude Barras. The film is adapted from a French YA novel and tells the whimsical and simple story of a nine year old boy and his experiences as an orphan. The film was screened at the Directors’ Fortnight at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and it was praised for falling into that special part of animation that’s mature enough for adult viewers to appreciate, whilst also being neither condescending nor scarring for younger audiences in its frank approach to the facts of life.


Poland’s entry is Andrzej Wajda’s Afterimage and with the director having sadly passed away at 90 this October, if the Polish entry were to take home the Oscar, it would be the first time a posthumous award is given in the foreign language category. It would also be the first win for Wajda himself, whose films have been submitted as Poland’s entry eight times and made it to the official nominations four times. Afterimage is a drama and personal love letter to avant-garde painter and fellow Polish dissident, Wladyslaw Strzeminski, in the face of the strict Stalinist code of Socialist Realism in Poland’s history.


Germany’s entry this year, is directed by the first female filmmaker to be honored with the 2016 Cannes Film Festival’s FIPRESCI Award, as well as the FIPRESCI Grand Prix for best film. Maren Ade’s rather long dramedy, Toni Erdmann tells the story of a “prank prone” father’s decision to reconnect with his overly serious businesswoman daughter.


Mexico submitted Desierto, a timely thriller about illegal immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border directed by Jonás Cuarón, son of Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón. The film stars Gael Garcia Bernal and begins as a hopeful journey for a better life, which quickly turns into a fight for survival when a group of Mexican migrant workers are chased down by an armed merciless vigilante. The thought-provoking themes present in Desierto are bound to spark interesting debates among audiences everywhere.


Chile’s pick is Neruda, a somewhat fantastical film about the hunt for the Communist fugitive and Nobel Prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda. The film is directed by Pablo Larraín, who was nominated in the foreign language category in 2013 for No and also directed the best picture Oscar frontrunner Jackie, this year. Neruda screened during the Directors’ Fortnight at this year’s Cannes Film Festival before going on to both TIFF, Telluride and the New York Film Festival to positive reviews. It also stars Gael Garcia Bernal in the role of the fictional inspector with delusions of grandeur set out to catch the film’s womanizing and childish version of Neruda.


France’s submission this year is the hotly controversial rape-revenge thriller, Elle, by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, whose Dutch-originated Turkish Delight was nominated in the foreign language category in 1974. The film has sparked many debates among both critics and moviegoers regarding its blasé attitude on serious themes such as rape, violence, family and so on, but Isabelle Huppert’s stellar performance has been unanimously lauded.


Iran is back again with Asghar Farhadi, the director of the critically acclaimed film A Separation that won back in 2012. His new film, The Salesman, won for Best Actor (Shahab Hosseini) and Best Screenplay at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The story is about the life of a young couple in the roles of a local rendition of Miller’s Death of a Salesman; furthermore, their personal relationship takes a toll once they move into a house previously occupied by a woman who was potentially involved in prostitution.


Spain has nominated Pedro Almodovar for the sixth time, this year for his new film, Julieta, which made its international premiere at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. It tells the story of a woman confronting the events that led to the estranged relationship with her daughter. Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown was nominated in 1989 and he won for All About My Mother in 2000.


Finland also has a standout submission with Juho Kuosmanen’s film The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, which is the list’s sole black-and-white film this year. The film is based on the true story of Olli Mäki, the famous Finnish boxer, during his run for the 1962 World Featherweight title. It screened at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Prize Un Certain Regard.


Whereas in 27 previous submissions the Philippines has never been nominated or even made the preliminary shortlist for the foreign film category, this year’s Ma’ Rosa could prove a surprise candidate. Directed by Brillante Mendoza, the film took home the award for Best Actress (Jaclyn Jose), and tells the story of a convenience story-owning family struggling with daily life after the parents are detained by authorities for possible illegal activity.


Canada decided to go with the critically polarizing family drama It’s Only Until the End of the World, which won young director and Cannes favorite, Xavier Dolan, the Cannes Grand Prix this year. Based on a play, the film stars big French names such as Gaspard Ulliel, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard and Léa Seydoux and tells the story of Louis, a terminally ill writer who returns home after a twelve year unexplained absence to inform his estranged family of his impending death. What follows is a tense afternoon filled with familial fights, reconnections and regret.


South Korea surprisingly enough overlooked auteur, Park Chan-wook’s gorgeous period erotic lesbian mystery, The Handmaiden, in favor of an upcoming war film from another director Kim Jee-woon, The Age of Shadows, which premiered in Venice.


Belgium has yet again passed over the latest film from the Dardenne brothers, The Unknown Girl, which played at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. They are instead, submitting first-time director Robin Pront’s The Ardennes, a thriller about a robbery gone wrong that debuted at last year’s TIFF in the Discovery program and has been nominated for 10 Ensor Awards.

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