Coveted by the entire film world, America or not, the Oscar is the most prestigious award of all. One category is reserved for non-English-language films produced outside the United States. The winner of the latest of these awards, the Danish film In a Better World, recently premiered in Spain. The Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film recognizes not only its direction, but also its cinematography and the overall artistry of its production. Here we review the life of the most international Oscar.
The Academy had been giving awards for a number of years when, in 1947, it gave its first Oscar for a non-English-language motion picture to the Italian film Shoeshine, one of the first and best examples of Italian neo-realism directed by Vittorio de Sica. Since then, some 64 Oscars have been given to foreign films. Some of them are true masterpieces while others are simply exotic works with nothing particularly noteworthy to distinguish them for the award. Italy and France, with 13 and 12 awards, respectively, have been the most awarded countries. They are trailed by Spain and Japan, with four Oscar statuettes given to each (although Spain exceeds Japan in nominations, with 19 compared to 15).
The Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film is mostly a seal of quality outside the United States, although some of these films were never even shown there, and those that were could only be seen in the large cities, such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Americans tend to have little tolerance for subtitles and foreign films sell poorly. Consequently, films by directors of the fame and prestige of the likes of Fellini, Bergman, and Almodóvar that got the Oscar didn't even make a limited circuit of showings in US theaters.
Shoeshine, the film that
As we said earlier, Italy has won the award more often than any other country. Vitorrio de Sica, creator of Shoeshine, the first foreign film distinguished by the Academy with an Oscar, also got the award two years later for The Bicycle Thief (1949), at the peak of Italian neo-realism, and a timeless work for cinema worldwide. De Sica won the Oscar again in 1964 with Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, a comedy of commercial but high-quality sketches magnificently performed by Sophia Loren at the height of her beauty and career. He would get the award one more time, in 1967 for The Garden of the Finzi Continis, a powerful film version of the novel Giorgio Bassani wrote on the misfortune of Italian Jews. Fellini's works right a lasting impression on the members of the Academy in Hollywood. En 1956 and 1957 the master Italian filmmaker from Rimini, with help from his wife, the at-once reviled and admired Giulietta Massina, got the award for two great melodramas, one on the people in a circus troop, La Strada (The Road), and the other for Nights in Cabiria, which revolves around the story of a prostitute on the streets of Rome. He would win again in 1963 with 8½, a fantasy-like, magical and quite autobiographical look at the life of the director and his love affairs. Amarcord, another master work by the emblematic Italian filmmaker, inspired in childhood memories and for many the crowing achievement of his career, was the foreign film selected in 1974. Italy would have to wait 15 years before it was again called up to the stage at the virtually-hallowed ceremony. In 1979, the award went to that country?s entry, Cinema Paradiso by Giuseppe Tornatore, a touching homage to cinema of all time. In 1998, Roberto Benigni hopped from seat to seat over the heads of the film industry's most distinguished celebrities to get the last Oscar Italy has received up to now for Life Is Beautiful.
Turning to some of the most prominent French productions, in 1952 the Oscar for Best Foreign Film went to René Clément's Forbidden Games, about some children who play with death to which Narciso Yepes contributed an unforgettable soundtrack. In 1959, Black Orpheus, a colorful contemporary version of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice with the carnival in Rio for a backdrop by Marcel Camus won the award. In 1967, it went to A Man and a Woman, a romantic love story marked by the elegant beauty of Anouk Aimée and Pierre Barouh's famous song which gave the title to the film. Then, the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar for 1972 went to The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie directed by Spain's own Luis Buñuel, a biting critique of the upper-class French bourgeoisie. And, in 1974, the award again went to France for the excellent Day for Night, in which Françoise Truffaut shows the mystery and intrigue that go into the making of a film.
Nights of Cabiria, one of 13
Intellectuals and progressive reviewers made Ingmar Bergman's films trendy in America. His claustrophobic, complex, and clever films which delve into the deep recesses of the soul with startling results always leave a bitter after-taste. This Swedish filmmaker's works won the golden statuette three times. In 1960 it was for The Golden Spring, a powerful film which has some of the most horrifying rape scenes to ever appear on screen. The next year, he repeated his achievement with the disturbing Through a Glass Darkly, a devastating family drama in which madness and incest have important parts in the dramatic action. And, lastly, in 1983, the Best Foreign-Language Oscar went to the subtle and delightful Fanny and Alexander, a magnificent portrayal of a family in Sweden in the early twentieth century as seen through the eyes of a pre-teen. It was a fine and fitting testimony to the genius of Bergman as a filmmaker.
Two films from German cinema stand out for mentioning here. The Tin Drum is a rich allegory based on the Gunther Grass novel by the same name, directed by Volker Schlöndorf in 1978. And, Donnersmark's 2006 film The Lives of Others is a passionate study on a spy from the STASI, the East German secret police, and a couple he is watching closely.
Of all the countries in Latin America, only Argentina has won the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film twice. Luis Puenzo's The Official Story won it in 1986 and Juan José Campanella's The Secret in Their Eyes got it in 2010. Mexico has been nominated seven times (including this year with Biutiful), but has never managed to come away with one of these coveted awards.
Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa
Taking a quick look at the history of Spanish-produced nominees for the Best Foreign-Language Oscar, the first Spanish film to be in the running for it was La Venganza, a rural social drama by Juan Antonio Bardem and starring Carmen Sevilla and Jorge Mistral. Other films ?Made in Spain? which were nominated but didn't win the award were the Berlanga classic Plácido in 1962 and two Spanish dance films by Rovira Beleta, Los Tarantos in 1963 and El amor brujo (Bewitched Love) in 1967. Tristana in 1970, a Buñuel anthology, like the co-production with France, That Obscure Object of My Desire in 1977,
Fernando Trueba's Belle Epoque
As you can see, not only Penélope Cruz shines at the Oscars, but rather, Spanish professionals have been sitting in the seats at the gala for many years, waiting for their names to be called after, "And the winner is?". We give them all heart-felt congratulations.