“Amelie has a strange feeling of absolute harmony. It's a perfect moment. A soft light, a scent in the air, the quiet murmur of the city. A surge of love, an urge to help mankind overcomes her.” –Amélie (France, 2001)
Since the first introduction of Best Foreign Film as an Oscar Academy Award category, various films have been selected to compete for this award. Many of the earlier classical foreign films expanded cinematic influences and memories for hundreds of viewers. Bicycle Thief (Italy, 1949), Rashomon (Japan, 1951), 8 ½ (Italy, 1962), War and Peace (Soviet Union, 1968), The Tim Drum (Germany, 1979), Life is Beautiful (Italy, 1998), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Taiwan, 2000), A Separation (Iran, 2011) and many outstanding foreign films stood out from competitions against other films. Most best foreign films not only represent a unique national cinema, but also function as an alternate to the English features.
This year’s nominees for Best Foreign Film category are The Great Beauty (Italy), The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium), Omar (Palestine), The Missing Picture (Cambodia), and The Hunt (Denmark). Obviously, all of these films are among the finest of foreign language features, but they all appeal to the audience with different emotional reactions. One intriguing characteristic of this year’s nominees is that only the Italian film has some humorous elements, while the rest all depict serious issues and dramas.
Searching for the exquisite beauty of the landscapes in Rome after his 65th birthday, the protagonist looks back into his past to find the parties and cafés extravagant and lavish in The Great Beauty. This film is an artistic tour to revisit the blending of all the ancient architectures and modern culture, as if the character is wandering around in a dream in Fellini’s 8 ½.
Omar tells the story of a young Palestinian freedom fighter, who has to make painful decisions about life and manhood while he crosses the separation wall to meet with his secret love Nadia. The suspense unveils when he is captured as an informant in the wake of an Israeli soldier's killing. Gradually, his feelings become as torn apart as the Palestinian landscape. The film is directed by Hany Abu-Assad, the director of Paradise Now (2005), which deals with similar story content.
Similarly, The Missing Picture also situates personal stories within the large complicated political context. Director Rithy Panh utilizes clay figures, archival footage, and his narration to recreate the atrocities Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge committed between 1975 and 1979. The combinations of clay animation, documentary and narrative project a tangled family story as the burden of a nation’s history.
Two of the most emotionally touching foreign films are The Broken Circle Breakdown and The Hunt. The Broken Circle Breakdown uses a unique crosscut editing technique to portray a couple’s romance and melodrama. Elise and Didier fall in love at first sight. She owns a tattoo shop and he plays banjo in a bluegrass band. The film opens and ends with Didier sings with his band when Elise first sees him in a bar. They are bonded over a shared love and passion for American popular music and culture. Their romance draws them closer to each other till a serious tragedy occurs to them. Their beloved daughter gets cancer after her sixth birthday and succumbs to it within a year. The couple’s relationship is tested and culminating in Elise’s suicide. The cinematography captures beautiful colors and characters’ sincere emotions in the film. The melodrama is propelled by the soundtrack of bluegrass, making the film a memorable masterpiece. The Broken Circle Breakdown enlarges familial issues due to the loss of a child, leading to the fall of the parents. The theme is reflects the struggles in numerous families across the world. The characters’ strong feelings enable some audiences to resonate with tears.
More intensely, The Hunt depicts a different form of depression through the character’s unfortunate experiences. Lucas is a teacher living a lonely life in a small Danish town, where he is known as a generous and friendly man, while struggling over his son's custody. His life gets better as he finds love from his friends and receives good news from his son, but his reputation and fortune is about to be ruined by an innocent little lie from his best friend’s little daughter. The little random lie destroys the innocent man’s life and he loses his job and trust from his best friend and people in the town. With turmoil, ordeal and an unstable emotional state, only his son and his son’s God father would trust him and help him to overcome the huge challenge. The film is directed by acclaimed filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg, who also directed The Celebration (Denmark, 1998). The dark elements in the mise-en-scene drive the suspense in the storyline from one stage of emotional turmoil to another. Close-ups of Lucas’s face emphasize his depression and other facial expressions. As opposed to heavily use soundtrack, the film mainly expands silence to the most. The film’s title The Hunt is very symbolic in the film’s dual meanings. One is local people’s hunt of Lucas when they regard him as the evil person, the other meaning parallels the passing of a gun for hunting from the father to the son as the man reaches legal hunting age in Denmark.
\Some people say that Academy Award Best Foreign Films are usually very sad, and I totally agree with it, because they normally reflect and criticize serious issues with social commentary. These foreign films teach the viewers lessons about something they are either unfamiliar with or some questions they do not have answers to. This is the great beauty of Academy Award Best Foreign Film.