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Foreign Language Oscar Nominees 2019

Foreign language films often struggle for recognition at the Oscars, but that was not the case this year. Foreign films earned 15 total nominations outside of the Foreign Language Film category, including two for Director and three for Cinematography, which is perhaps a reflection of the Academy’s diversity drive finally bearing fruit.

The fact that only “Roma” took Oscars home – for Foreign Language Film, Director and Cinematography – shouldn’t dissuade you from thinking the other nominees were not worthy. Below is a capsule review of each of the five Foreign Language Film nominees, along with how you can see them now.

 

Capernaum (Lebanon) ***
This is the second consecutive year a Lebanese film was nominated (the country’s “The Insult” should’ve won last year; “A Fantastic Woman” did instead”), and this one will leave you an emotional wreck. It follows a 12 year-old boy named Zain (Zain al-Rafeea) as he leaves home after something awful happens to his sister, then sues his parents for being born. Later he finds himself caring for a toddler on the rough, unfriendly streets of Beiruit. Equal parts depressing and inspiring, this is a moving picture that is not for the faint of heart. Rated R. Availability: In art house theaters now, and on home video March 26th.

Cold War (Poland) **1/2
Best Director nominee Pawel Pawlikowski’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning “Ida” (2013) follows lovers Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Zula (Joanna Kulig) through an on and off love affair over two decades. Shot in pristine black and white (it was also a Cinematography nominee), it’s too episodic for it’s own good, but the performances keep you engaged throughout the quick 89 minute run time. Rated R. Availability: In art house theaters now; available on Amazon Prime March 22.

Never Look Away (Germany) ***
The story of a German artist (Tom Schilling) from the Nazi regime through the rise of the Berlin Wall, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s (“The Lives of Others”) film is a bloated but poignant three hour opus. This too was a Cinematography nominee, and it requires patience, but its self-indulgence doesn’t deter from it being a touching love story and testament to the power of art. Rated R. Availability: In art house theaters now.

Roma (Mexico) ***1/2
Best Director winner Alfonso Cuaron’s (“Gravity”) film is based on, and dedicated to, the maid who helped raise him in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City in the early 1970s. The film follows a year in the life of a maid named Cleo (Best Actress nominee Yalitza Aparicio) as she handles her own love life, pregnancy, her employer’s (Supporting Actress nominee Marina de Tavira) faltering marriage and the family’s children. Many pundits believed this would win Best Picture in addition to Best Foreign Language Film; yes it’s good, but it’s also slow. The key is to get through the first hour and 15 minutes, because the last hour is emotionally impactful and ripe with sociopolitical commentary. Rated R. Availability: Netflix streaming.

Shoplifters (Japan) ***1/2
My favorite of the five nominated films follows a surrogate family with many, many secrets to hide. It takes a while to get going, but once it does the treasures it unearths are quite special indeed. Nice performances from the ensemble, including the “mom” played by Sakura Ando, who in December 2018 won the Supporting Actress prize from the Florida Film Critics Circle (of which I am a member). Rated R. Availability: On home video.