(UPDATE 2/27/13: As predicted, Amour won the Oscar. However, if you want to catch a free screening of War Witch at USC tonight Wednesday 2/27, followed by a Q&A with director Kim Nguyen and actress Rachel Mwanza, whose Cinderella story of being cast for the film after being discovered while living on the streets as a homeless orphan child is truly inspirational, RSVP here. You can also RSVP for the 2nd screening, Beyond The Hills, from Romania.)
I normally hate being a tour guide, because I know the least about anything “touristy” and avoid tourist spots, but I had a couple of visitors from Germany so I felt obliged to show them around this past week. No first-time visit in LA is complete without seeing Hollywood where we saw the bustling activity and preparations on Hollywood Blvd. for The Oscars ceremony tonight. My favorite category is Best Foreign Language Film which is often the only awareness of foreign films to a wide American audience.
Luckily for us here in Los Angeles, there are more film festivals throughout the year than I can possibly keep track of and attend, but I have managed to see 4 out of the 5 nominated films. If you’re interested in finding out about LA’s film festivals and many foreign and independent film screenings, see this great list and join our movie lovers Facebook group.
Kon-Tiki (Norway) – I caught this bio-epic at the Scandinavian Film Festival, based on the true story of a group of Norwegian explorers who set sail in 1947 on a perilous journey by raft from Peru to the Polynesian islands to show it was possible that early pre-Columbian peoples could have settled the remote Pacific islands. A documentary made about the expedition won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 1951.
No (Chile) – Another true story about how Chile’s dictator Pinochet was overthrown peacefully from power in 1988 leading to the beginnings of a democratically elected government. The movie stars international star Gael García Bernal as the man behind the successful TV campaign to urge voters to vote for democracy. He and director Pablo Larraín were in attendance at a screening at LACMA, which hosts lots of great free film screenings throughout the year.
A Royal Affair (Denmark) – When it comes to foreign films, the Academy seems to favor true stories and historical dramas. This epic is an 18th century period piece about a tragic romance between Queen Caroline of Denmark and King Christian VII’s physician, Struensee, a man of the Enlightenment, who used his growing influence to pass progressive reforms way ahead of the times. Another of many great films I saw at the Scandinavian Film Festival.
War Witch (Canada) – A gripping tale of the violent lives of children forced to fight in the Congo, Africa. The central character is played by Rachel Mwanza, who was discovered living on the streets as an orphan, and has won best actress awards for her gripping portrayal by the Berlin and Tribeca film festivals. To go from being a street orphan to walking the red carpet today in Hollywood is a true Cinderella story! I saw the film at the AFI Fest, the biggest, free film festival in LA and you can catch War Witch in theatres starting March 8.
Amour (Austria) – The movie most critics are predicting to win the Oscar is the only one I haven’t seen yet. I had a chance to see it at the AFI Fest but to be honest, the story of an elderly couple’s last days together as one struggles with dementia, all taking place within their apartment, didn’t immediately place it high up on my list of films to see with my limited time. Maybe I’m just not into love stories, but judging by the critical acclaim and the fact it’s also nominated for Best Picture, it’s almost guaranteed the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film tonight.
The Best Foreign Language Oscar is also misleading — only one film can be submitted per country – try summing up the year’s worth of American cinema with just one movie? So keep in mind the nominated movies are not necessarily the best those countries have to offer and there are so many more great films out there. Here are a few others I saw this past year:
Xingu (Brazil) – The true story of the Villas Boas brothers who tirelessly devoted their lives since the 1940s to advocate for indigenous rights and fight to create a national park to protect indigenous tribes against the encroachment of Brazilian logging onto their lands. I saw this at UCLA, which hosts free monthly screenings every 2nd Wednesday of the month.
Rust and Bone (Belgium/France) – The always incredible Marion Cotillard stars in this love story of 2 people from worlds: an unemployed father of a young son and a whale-trainer, and the tragedies and struggles in each of their lives that unite them. This was shown as part of a special tribute to Marion Cotillard at the AFI Fest.
The Hunt (Denmark) – Another great Danish movie starring the prolific actor Mads Mikkelsen (who’s also in The Royal Affair) as a schoolteacher dealing with accusations of molestation in a small town.
Barbara (Germany) – Germany’s submission for the Oscar, which did not make the shortlist, is set in East Germany a decade before the fall of the Berlin Wall, starring Nina Hoss as a doctor trying to flee the totalitarian state.
The Deep (Iceland) – Iceland’s submission for the Oscar which also did not make the shortlist. It’s an incredible true story of a sole surviving fisherman from a sinking boat in the frigid North Sea.