They used to call this foreign language films, I believe, but now they’re International Features. This year there were 5 nominees. Four were excellent, one was a turkey. They gave the Oscar to the turkey. And that makes me mad, so I’ll do it last.
First, “Better Days” is a Chinese film about bullying. Two young bullied protagonists, both very alone in the world, find and comfort each other until things get very complicated and someone (a bully) dies. They stick together and lie for each other, but ultimately the truth comes out and both do time in prison. Their loyalty to each other never wavers. It’s a brutal but sweet film that flashes forward into their post-prison life, teaching and protecting kids against bullying.
“Collective” is actually a documentary, but was nominated also as an International Feature, and deservedly so. I’m tempted to plagiarize the Roger Eberts review which spells it all out in riveting detail, but the long and short is that there was a big nightclub fire in which many people were killed, but many more were injured — burned, specifically — and many of them started dying in hospital. Why? Infections. Why so many infections? Improperly diluted cleaning products, which meant the hospitals were unsafe for everyone, not only burn patients. Why? Contracts. Corruption. All the way up and down the power structures of hospital and government. We learn all of this bit by bit, revelation by revelation. The government falls, a provisional government comes in to try to clean things up, but … wow. A really powerful film, not to be missed. You can watch it on Netflix or Online.
“Quo Vadis, Aida?” is another one to challenge your worldview. This one is set in Bosnia towards the end of the conflict, when the UN tries, but ultimately fails, to protect Srebrenica from Serbian occupation. The lead character is a woman who has been working as a translator for the UN forces throughout the conflict, and tries to trade on that service to win safety for her family members as things come crashing down. It has infuriating and heart-stopping moments, and the impending sense of doom is palpable. She survives although her family members do not. And then, what does one do? One has to live, after all … Watch it on Amazon Prime or ???
“The Man who sold his skin” tackles another confict zone, Syria this time, and the story of a young man and his girlfriend who are parted by conflict and social pressures. He flees to Beirut, she marries the man her parents have picked out for her. Then he meets an artist who “makes worthless things valuable just by signing them” — and he wants to sign the young man’s back. Is selling his skin the same as selling his soul? He doesn’t think so, and then he does, then he doesn’t. Through plot twists, humiliations and dilemmas, the story unwinds and in the end nobody dies. The main “villain” is the art-buying world of super-wealthy collectors who can and will buy whatever they want, including a human being if that’s where the art is. This was a very entertaining and well-made film. There are various ways to watch it.
And now for the turkey. “Another Round” is a Danish film about how much Danes love alcohol. Four male high-school teachers facing mid-life crisis make the decision to experiment with the theory of some “philosopher” that people have an alcohol deficit in their blood, and that in order to cure life’s discontent and boredom, all that is needed is to bring that alcohol level up every day, starting with breakfast. We were introduced to this film by TIFF artistic director, Cameron Bailey, who loved the film — and we really like him and trust his judgement, but on this one, he totally missed the mark. If you enjoy watching films about people drinking themselves senseless, there are better ones out there with more insightful characters behaving more thoughtfully. These guys just get plastered and pissed and justify themselves doing it. They like alcohol better than their wives, better than their jobs, better than their children, better than — well, anything. One ends up dead. The other three are among his pallbearers. And after the funeral they have to decide — keep drinking or stop? Of course they choose to keep drinking, and we’re supposed to think that’s not only okay but praiseworthy. But I couldn’t shake the face of Brett Kavanaugh declaring his love for beer during the hearing prompted by Christine Blasey-Ford’s accusation of sexual assault. And I couldn’t forget the story of Cassie, played by Carey Mulligan in A Promising Young Woman, whose best friend died after a drunken party at university. And I couldn’t help thinking about commercials from MADD, all the people missing from birthday parties and important life events because some jerk decided to drive drunk. Did it deserve the Oscar? Absolutely NOT. In my humble opinion.
Well, that’s a downer note to end on, but I wanted to get it out of my system. Now I’ve done it and I’ve earned the title of grumpy old baptist!! And I don’t care. I don’t really think it’s my baptist background, but I don’t find it funny, charming or interesting, so that’s that.
I won’t write up the main-stream movies, so I’ll wrap up my Oscar wrap-up there. Not sure what I’ll find blog-worthy next, but do stay tuned!
And if you’re not vaccinated yet, get vaccinated!! (Catherine and I got the Moderna shot. Hurrah!)