From “Forbidden Games” to “Cinema Paradiso,” “Kolya” to “In a Better World,” the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar race has long been friendly to films driven by child protagonists — the more winsome the kid, the better. Last year saw a harder-edged variation on the formula succeed, as Canada’s child-soldier drama “War Witch” scored a nod. This year, however, voters are already spoilt for choice when its comes to determining this year’s semi-annual child’s-eye slot; I’ve already lost count of the number of times I’ve typed “coming of age” during this year’s submission process.
So far, we have Australia’s popular “The Rocket,” about a feisty 10-year-old taking charge of his displaced family; Singaporean critics’ favorite “Ilo Ilo,” about a young boy’s bond with his nanny; Georgia’s “In Bloom,” about the friendship between two pubescent girls; Hungary’s “The Notebook,” which combines a brotherly survival tale with Holocaust drama; and South Korea’s self-explanatory “Juvenile Offender.” Perhaps there are more: I haven’t studied every synopsis yet.
Joining this accidentally themed group is Latvia’s entry “Mother, I Love You.” Janis Nords’ film didn’t really cross my radar at the Berlin Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix from the youth-focused Kplusjury in the Generation sidebar. I did, however, take notice when it won the Best Narrative Film award at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June — suggesting that it could well take off with the Academy crowd.
The story of a 12-year-old boy, the son of a single mother, who finds himself in a moral quandary after a simple lie spirals out of control, the film has been warmly reviewed on the festival circuit: Hollywood Reporter critic Neil Young singled out its “excellent” young lead, and remarked that this “tale of a wayward 12-year-old’s painful transition toward maturity treads familiar turf with disarming confidence.” Could be one to watch, though Latvia has no record of success in this category.
Also joining the foreign-language race today (though not with a child-based film) is Morocco, whose entry dates back to last year’s Un Certain Regard section at Cannes. (It won the Francois Chalais Award there, and went on to take Best Director at the Seattle Film Festival.) I didn’t see “God’s Horses” there, and confess that I have limited memory of it at all, but responses were generally positive to this topical drama about the recruitment and training of terrorists in Moroccan slums, praised by the Reporter’s Deborah Young for its “brutal poetry.” Sounds a mite too hard-edged for the general votership, though it could be something that appeals to the executive committee. Like Latvia, Morocco has yet to crack a nomination in this category, though they earned a surprise shortlist spot two years ago for “Omar Killed Me.”
Finally, some news in the category that’s grabbing a few undeserved headlines. We don’t yet know what film Spain are going to choose, but we do know that it’s not going to be the work of previous category winner Pedro Almodovar, as the country announced a shortlist of four comparatively low-profile works: “Cannibal,” “Family United,” “15 Years + 1 Day” and “Scorpion in Love.” Once more, there’s talk of a “snub” for Almodovar, who hasn’t been selected by his country since 2006’s “Volver” — but with his limp sex farce “I’m So Excited!” having emerged as his most tepidly reviewed film in decades, why would, or indeed should, his country submit his work? Especially when one of the shortlisted options is — whaddaya know? — a coming-of-age story.
Check out the ongoing submissions list here.