Austria enters Haneke’s ‘Amour’ in the foreign Oscar race

I’ll make this relatively quick, partly because I have a screening to run to, and partly because we’ve covered this ground in a previous post. But thanks to Austrian reader Norman Shetler for informing us that his country has selected their entry for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar race — and, as we suspected, it’s Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner “Amour.” 

“But it’s a French film!” I hear some of you cry. Well, no: this is a global industry, after all, and a film isn’t defined by the country it’s set in or the language it speaks. As a French-Austrian-German co-production, any one of those three countries would have been entitled to submit it. Tidily enough, it’s the director’s home country that gets the privilege this time.

France was never in the running to submit it anyway. Haneke’s film is only released there next month, thus missing the eligibility window: to qualify, a film must have been released in the submitting country at some point in the 12 months preceding the October 1 submission deadline. This frees them up to submit something by one of their own. If, as I suspect they might, the French enter the feelgood, Weinstein-backed crossover smash “The Intouchables,” they could ironically be one of “Amour”‘s most formidable obstacles to the win.

Meanwhile, selecting “Amour” is a vindicating move for Austria in two respects. First, it should soothe any lingering animosity over the 2009 race, when Austria and Germany tussled over who got to submit Haneke’s previous Palme champ, “The White Ribbon.” Germany won, and was duly nominated; Austria’s second choice, “For a Moment, Freedom,” didn’t crack the shortlist.

Secondly, the selection of “Amour” is a subtly pointed rejoinder to the Academy. The last time Austria submitted a Haneke film (they’ve done so four times, not once netting a nomination) was in 2005, when they entered the acclaimed “Hidden” — which, like “Amour,” is set in Paris with a French cast. The Academy controversially disqualified the film, claiming it was insufficiently Austrian to compete — as good a demonstration as any of the flaws of the Academy’s outmoded construction of this category. They effectively admitted their error the next year, changing the rules to permit films in non-native languages to compete. So by entering “Amour” — which would also have been disqualified in 2005 — Austria is effectively inviting the Academy to prove their changed ways.

Anyway, though we often say nothing is certain in this ever-perverse category, this news all but guarantees “Amour” a spot on the nine-film Oscar shortlist in January. Its blunt emotional impact, pristine craft and thematic resonance to older voters already stands it in good stead in this category, but even if it turns out to be overly tough medicine for lightweight voters, there is no imaginable way the executive committee will let it slip through the cracks.

Less certain is what this means for the film’s chances in other categories. As you saw in this this week’s chart update accompanying Kris’ Off the Carpet column, we’re currently predicting Sony Picture Classics, given little else to work with, will give “Amour” the full weight of their campaign energy, securing nominations for Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay, as well as for its two impeccable leads. It would make it the first foreign-language film in history to score that haul of nominations (and the first to crack the top category in six years), but it’s well within the realm of possibility.

Funnily enough, however, it would be even likelier if the film had somehow failed to be entered in the foreign-language race, meaning Haneke supporters would have no choice but to vote for it in the general field. Will the film’s fans — and there will be a number of them — be content to recognize it in the ghetto race, or will they think it sufficiently special to honor across the board? We’ll see.