For this category, I decided to go “rogue” and select works that may not have been officially submitted by their country’s producers guilds for the simple reason that there simply were better and more compelling works that got left out in the cold. And in other cases, I wanted to make a conscious effort to break free of the European bias that informed certain other works (yes, I’m talking about YOU, Sweden — just because your entrant got much love at Cannes don’t necessarily make it a done deal on this ballot). With that, let’s go…
BIRDSHOT (Philippines) Directed by Mikhail Red
A teenage daughter of the steward of a wildlife sanctuary finds herself in a world of trouble when she deliberately kills an endangered Philippine eagle in this sophomore feature effort from Mikhail Red, the latest in a long family line of indie Filipino filmmakers that includes his father, world-renowned Raymond Red. Equal parts police procedural and coming-of-age story, BIRDSHOT may not be as “busy” and self-conscious about itself than other Academy Award submissions, but it succeeds on the strength of its assured storytelling and visual accomplishment, and confirms the talents of director Red as someone we’ll have to pay close attention to.
BY THE TIME IT GETS DARK (Thailand) Directed by Anocha Suwichakornpong
This rumination of the legacy of the brutal 1976 Thammasat University student massacre offers a rigorously-told story of memory, relived and repressed experiences, and ever-shifting narratives. Anocha Suwichakornpong, an alumnus of the Columbia University graduate film production program, has put her filmmaking into the telling of stories from a formalistically demanding viewpoint. BY THE TIME IT GETS DARK might not be for everybody, but for the Academy voter open-minded enough to recognize the possibilities of innovative filmmaking, then this film deserves to be afforded the chance to make its case.
A FANTASTIC WOMAN (Chile) Directed by Sebastián Lelio
Marina, a trans woman, struggles to locate her sense of “fierceness” when just about all aspects of her life come crashing down in the wake of her lover Orlando’s sudden and wholly unexpected death — Orlando’s family ostracized her and forbids Marina from attending the funeral, the police suspect foul play, the doctor doesn’t trust her intentions, and even Orlando’s son threatens to throw marina out of the flat she shared with Orlando. Director Sebastián Lelio handles this chain of dramas with an assured, sensitive directorial hand, resulting in an understated yet rousing work.
IN THE FADE (Germany) Directed by Fatih Akin
Katja (German American actress Diane Kruger) becomes unhinged after neo-Nazis kills both her husband and 6-year old son in a bomb attack in this curiously detached and unsentimental offering by German-Turkish director Fatih Akin. Artfully constructed and acted, IN THE FADE squarely belongs to actress Kruger, who transends both her cosmetics spokesperson personae and her past roles in such Hollywood fare as NATIONAL TREASURE and INGLORIOUS BASTERDS to deliver a role that slowly but methodically ratchets up in both desperation and intensity.
TOM OF FINLAND (Finland) – Directed by Dome Karukoski
Emotionally tortured WWII hero Touko Laaksonen finds a form of refuge in his art in Dome Karukoski’s take on the true story behind one of pop culture’s most enduring icons — Tom of Finland, the embodiment of hyper-masculine homoerotic male portraiture. Other reviews such as those found in Variety and the New York Times may have found director Karukoski’s approach a bit too cool and restrained, but why does every LGBT film have to let their freak flags fly? Because others say so? TOM OF FINLAND isn’t afraid to just let us enjoy the art, and for us to appreciate and identify with the hurtful places from which this art was inspired.
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