+the scene

Quick Guide to the Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film Nominees!

Written by Meg Spaulding. Published: January 30 2019


We’ve all probably seen the Oscar nominations by now, and I’m guessing everyone’s seen a few of the movies nominated (who didn't see Black Panther?). But chances are, the most mysterious category is Best Foreign Language Film, which almost always features a movie or two no one’s ever heard of. This section has always hurt me during any competitive Oscar viewing (the best way to watch the Oscars is by competing against your friends of who can guess the most winners), because I usually just pick a movie based on if the title sounds cool. Well, not this year! For 2019, I’ve done my research so that you don't have to! Although you should anyway...


Here's everything you need to know about the 2019 Foreign Language Film contenders!


Capernaum (Lebanon)

The first film on the nomination list is Capernaum, which is named after an ancient land that fell into chaos. Chaos is the overriding theme of this film, as it follows a 12-year-old named Zain as he navigates the slums of Beirut, Lebanon, on his own. His parents have neglected him, and so Zain finds a lawyer to take his parents to court. His goal is to sue his parents for birthing him. As we hear in the trailer, Zain doesn't want them to have any more children, since they aren't capable of caring for any of their living kids. This film was directed by Nadine Labaki, who also plays Zain’s lawyer. The rest of the cast is made up of non-actors, including the young Zain, who didn't know how to read or write before being cast (I hear he’s since been enrolled in school). He was allowed to react naturally to the events in the script, and the script was tweaked to fit his reactions. The trailer captures some of this movie’s energy—watch to see what I mean. Can’t you feel its power already? Oh, and Oprah herself made an Instagram post about it! If Oprah can’t stop thinking about this movie, what hope is there for the rest of us?




Cold War (Poland)

Cold War is a Polish film that is set…during the Cold War! It’s a love story, set during a time when everything, including what it meant to love, was metamorphosing. Joanna Kulig (Jennifer Lawrence’s long lost sister?) plays a folk singer named Zula, and Tomasz Kot plays the musical director who falls in love with her. Government interference in music production is just one thing that threatens to get in the way of their romance. The movie, kind of like the trailer, leaves a strong but subdued impact—not all is said, not everything is explained. If trailers could win awards (and I guess they can, since the Golden Trailer Awards is a thing), this would be a top contender. The writer and director of Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski, who is also nominated in the Best Director category, has said that the story is loosely based on his parents. It’s also in black and white, just like its biggest competition, Roma. Somewhere, a film purist is cheering.




Never Look Away (Germany)

Never Look Away is about the Cold War and Communist ideologies getting in the way of a romance…wait a second. The Communists are tackling artistic expression through painting instead of music in this film, but otherwise the themes seem very similar to Cold War. This one is in color, though, so there's that. Never Look Away follows the life of a painter as he grows from a young boy in Nazi Germany to an artist in Communist East Germany. His wife Ellie’s father is a controlling Communist politician who does not approve of his daughter’s romantic choice. There seems to be more to her father’s past, as we get a peek in the trailer of Ellie remembering her father’s suspicious deeds. Judging from the trailer alone, this film looks as though it will deal with specifics in ways that Cold War doesn’t. This story is based on the real German painter Gerhard Richter, so Google away if you want to see the real paintings that stirred up so much trouble.




Roma (Mexico)

Real talk, Roma is the only one of the nominated foreign films that I’ve actually seen. Thanks to Netflix, I’m assuming that’s true for a lot of people. Judging from its multiple Oscar nominations (10 in all, including Best Picture), Roma is the clear frontrunner in this category. It’s a U.S. and Mexico co-production, which is how it qualified for all these other categories. So maybe the Oscar voters will give another film a chance in this category. Who can say?? Roma tells the story of Cleo, a nanny and housekeeper working for a middle class family in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. Alfonso Cuarón wrote the screenplay, did the cinematography himself, and directed it, so clearly it’s close to his heart. The story of Cleo is based on his own nanny, and the family she works for is based on memories of his own family. He even filmed in places his real nanny liked to go, like the chicken restaurant where Cleo goes with her friend and fellow housekeeper Adela. Yalitza Aparicio has earned her own Best Actress nomination for her role as Cleo, as well as Marina de Tavira (as Cleo's employer), who snuck into the Best Supporting Actress category. Don’t let the black and white thing scare you, this movie captures something special about Mexico City, and about growing up, color or no color.




Shoplifters (Japan)

Coming to us from Japan, Shoplifters is last but not least in this competitive category of foreign films. It is one of only two films set in the present day (along with Capernaum) and is about a family who have to shoplift food and clothes to make ends meet. When they notice a young girl alone on an apartment balcony, they bring her to their house for dinner, and she ends up staying much longer than they expected. After essentially being adopted into this family, it turns out that her “kidnapping” has made the news, and the family is suddenly caught in the middle of a fight over the girl and the notion of what it means to be a family. Shoplifters won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and from the trailer, it’s easy to see why. The emotional weight seems to bubble and brew right from the start, and I’m sure it will all boil over in a heart-wrenching way.




Who do YOU think will take home Best Foreign Language Film in February? You can watch the Academy Awards on February 24th to find out!


(Image via Netflix)


- Meg Spaulding, YH Contributing Writer