It seems Germany had to think a little before selecting their candidate for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar race, as two contrasting candidates made compelling cases for submission. Earlier this year, it was widely predicted that they’d end up going with “Oh Boy,” a touching but street-smart comedy of twentysomething hipster ennui that played well on the international festival circuit, was a huge hit at home, and wound up dominating the German Academy Awards back in the spring.
Still, you probably stopped at “twentysomething hipster ennui” and thought, “Well, that’s a recipe for failure with this voting branch.” It seems the German selection committee might have felt the same way — particularly when they had another, older-skewing drama, with a WWII-related theme and a veteran Oscar-nominated star, to fall back on. I mean, this is an unpredictable business, but it’s not rocket science either. “Two Lives,” from writer-director Georg Maas, it is.
Norwegian icon Liv Ullmann — a two-time Best Actress nominee for “The Emigrants” and “Face to Face,” and among the greatest actors alive — and German actress Juliane Koehler as a mother and daughter with a war-damaged family history. Separated during the German occupation of Norway in WWII, with the young girl shipped to a children’s home in Germany, the two were reunited after the war, though the daughter has secretly maintained her German identity with certain acquaintances ever since. The bulk of the action takes place in 1990, immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, as the two are brought to testify in a case seeking reparations for similarly split families.
So far, so Academy-friendly. Reviews, while not ecstatic on the whole, are respectful of its serious-minded take on an endlessly storied stretch of history, and of the reportedly committed performances by its two stars. The film has yet to be released in Germany (though the German-Norwegian co-production was actually released in Norway last year), so we’ll find out if it ends up being as popular a choice at home as “Oh Boy” would have been, though it’s probably the most strategic one.
Germany was a fixture in the Oscar race between 2002 and 2009, cracking six nominations in those eight years, and winning for “Nowhere in Africa” and “The Lives of Others.” For the last three, however, they’ve missed the mark, despite savvy submissions: “Pina” made the nine-film shortlist, but wound up only with a documentary nomination; last year, Stasi-themed Berlinale hit “Barbara” rather surprisingly failed to crack even the shortlist. We’ll see if “Two Lives”‘ take on modern history is any more likely to please those wily foreign-branch voters.