Best Foreign Language Film

Kon-Tiki (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Kon-Tiki (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg).
Watched January 25, 2014.


I have an affinity for films and shows that involve being stranded on an island, or finding ones self in a desperate situation in the middle of the sea after something like a ship sinking.  I don’t know why–perhaps it is to see someone survive without modern comforts and vicariously experience the adventure and danger therein, or perhaps it is because I was introduced to Robinson Crusoe at a very young age.  All things considered, a film about six men traveling months at a time on a simple raft should be right up my alley, and while the story itself was up to scratch, the film was not.


Kon-Tiki is based on a true story, from book, documentary, and personal accounts of Thor Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Hagen), a scientist of the 1940s who wanted to prove that Polynesia was populated not my Asians as the world believed, but by Africans.  No respectable publisher or scientist would give him the time of day and told him the only way for anyone to take his theory seriously would be for him to make the trip across the sea from Peru himself.  National Geographic would have none of it, and although he had no money, Thor got together a crew and congregated in Peru where he convinced the government it would be worthwhile to finance their mission.


They built a balsawood raft precisely as it would have been built, using no modern technology to construct it, and set out on a 4,300 mile crossing.  The crew is briefly introduced to us: Thor is the ever optimistic and never doubting scientist, Herman Watzinger (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) is an engineer turned refrigerator salesman who is controlled by fear, Knut Haugland (Tobias Santelmann) is a war hero obsessed with his parrot, Bengt Danielsson (Gustaf Skarsgård) is the photographer, Erik Hesselberg (Odd Magnus Williamson) is the only one who has been to sea before, and Torstein Raaby (Jakob Oftebro) is the young adventurous one who works the radio.  We never learn more about the characters than this, really, and that is one of the big faults in Kon-Tiki.


What could have been a three hour adventure in which we get to know each character as I am sure they got to know each other in their 101 day sailing across the sea, we only get a hour and a half, most of which documents their adventures with sharks, whales, and glowing sea creatures.  Most of the film they are trying to find the southern current that will take them toward Polynesia, and there is one dramatic moment in which they must go over or around a reef.  All things considered, the film was shot beautifully, the introduction was well done and exactly as it should be, but the raft ride itself was a bit lacking.  We saw a lot of Watzinger’s fear and Thor’s struggle to captain him.  Their raft was absorbing water, and while this would probably be a big concern in reality, as would their inability to catch the current, only Watzinger seems to take these things seriously (although perhaps too seriously).


I enjoyed the film, but it did not give me enough.  The run time wasn’t enough for the characters, so instead they chose three of the seven to focus on–one being the sea–and left it as good.  Although there is one terrific scene involving a nail biting encounter with sharks, the rest of their adventures that should have been exciting were somewhat dull.  In the sequences they chose to dwell on, their timing was exquisite.  The colors and contrasts were beautiful, both in Norway in the beginning, but especially in their raft trip, alone on the big blue sea.


As the film is only an hour and a half, and it depicts a bit of history that is brave and encouraging, I would recommend this film.  It certainly isn’t my favorite, but the good scenes were magnificent, while its short comings kept it from being well rounded.  If you have ever read the book or seen the documentary, this is probably one movie you should add to your Netflix list.

Amour (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Amour (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 5 awards, of which it won 1.
Nominated for Best Director (Michael Heneke), Best Actress (Emmanuelle Riva), Best Original Screenplay (Michael Haneke), and Best Picture (Margaret Menegoz, Stefan Arndt, Velt Heiduschka, Michael Katz).
Won Best Foreign Language Film (Michael Haneke).
Watched November 12, 2013.


Amour is a heavy, well crafted tale of the tests that love goes through in the last days of our lives.  Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) have been married a long time.  Well cultured and now retired music teachers, they lead simple lives in a beautiful french apartment full of books and a baby grand.  One morning, Anne has a lapse, which we assume was probably a stroke, because the next time we see her she has undergone surgery, and it went badly.  She slowly progresses from being half paralyzed in a wheelchair to being bed ridden and cared for my nurses and husband alike.


Georges bears most of his wife’s condition very well, although you can see the sadness, fear, and helplessness in his eyes.  His daughter, who seems very preoccupied with her own life, keeps insisting that something must be done, but Georges has the ability to see that there isn’t much that can be done but help Anne be comfortable.  Anne loses her ability to communicate in the end, but although her words make no sense, you can see every emotion plainly in her eyes.


This is one of those films where I forgot pretty quickly that I was watching a foreign film.  I hardly noticed I was reading subtitles most of the time.  It is somewhat slow moving, particularly in the stillness that director Michael Haneke uses effectively.  He chose to shoot several scenes in one shot.  The camera doesn’t move for several minutes while Georges cuts flowers, Anne learns to use her wheelchair, or receives a bath from a nurse.  There is so much communication in this film, and most of it isn’t through dialogue.


The cinematography is brilliant, the story telling is wonderful, and the emotions are heart breaking.  It is easy to connect with the characters, which is sometimes difficult in foreign films.  Almost the entire film is shot in their small apartment and yet we see a whole life story.  Georges and Anne are still individuals who are learning about one another, and though the truth is that we all die alone, Georges is with Anne every step of the way, with love that only he could show to her.


Although the film is hard to watch, I also found the story quiet beautiful.  Those of us who are lucky to make it to their age with our partner will one day experience this, and it isn’t any easier than if they had lost each other earlier in their lives.  The story is relatable, but it is also an example of the partnership in marriage.


This film will require a little patience, and should probably not be viewed if you are having a tough time in life, but besides that I would highly recommend it.

In Darkness (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

In Darkness (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Agnieszka Holland).
Watched October 23, 2013.

In Darkness is a film about the Holocaust, but more specifically about humanity in the face of adversity.  Based on true events, it causes us to relive a nasty part of history that should never stop being retold.


Nazi Germany had reached its way into Poland.  A sewer worker, Mr. Socha (Robert Wiechiewicz) stumbles across a group of Jews from the ghetto preparing for the inevitable and makes a deal with them for when the time comes.  He is driven by greed and promises his partner that if it gets too hairy they will just hand the Jews in and walk away with the money.


Socha helps smuggle the Jews into the sewer and finds a suitable hiding place for them, where they hide for over a year.  Socha finds himself immediately under scrutiny by wife, shop owners, and suspicious Nazis.  Instead of running, however, he realizes that the eleven people in the sewer are human beings with families who deserve to breathe fresh air just as much as the next man.


The film is dark and slow moving.  Everyone is always tense and fearful.  There are storms and flooding, Nazi sewer searches, babies, and murder.  As much as the Jews want to trust Socha, they keep him at arms length and jump to conclusions.  He is only there for the money, after all.


I loved the character arch of Socha.  He is certainly the standout actor who holds most of the screen time.  We see his home life, his work life, and his night life.  We see the fear in his eyes when he must help the Nazis search the sewers and we watch as his cares become less about money and more about life.  He is willing to lose everything, and in doing so teaches those around him an important lesson.


As far as holocaust films go, In Darkness is less about the war camps and more about the struggle these particular families went through.  It shows quite clearly that although the Jews received the worst of it, everyone was affected by Hitler and Nazi Germany.  Although the film moves slowly, it keeps you on the edge of your seat.  Every second I was sure that their hiding place would be found or that Mr. Socha would fail them.


I would definitely recommend In Darkness.  I thought it was a particularly well made and understandable foreign film.  The characters grab at your heart and the story keeps your attention.  I may never view it again, but it is exquisite enough to make a lasting memory.

Footnote (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Footnote (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Joseph Cedar).
Watched June 1, 2013.

Footnote is an interesting Israeli film full of comedy and family drama.  The story of the film is fairly boring, but perhaps that is what makes it so good.  Despite the fact that it is a foreign film, the story is so every-man and ordinary that the circumstances, both comical and heart wrenching are relatable for even yours truly.

It was not my favourite film, but it borrowed techniques of humor and story telling from some of my most beloved styles that I appreciated it for what it was.  The wonderful camera work communicates the extensive family drama.  There is even  an arch nemesis.

It is the story of a father and his son, Eliezar and Uriel Shkolnik who are both scholars in the same field.  Uriel has been significantly more successful than his father, whose life’s work was stolen from him and published directly before Eliezar was set to release his Talmudic Studies work.  As such, his only published acknowledgement is in the footnote of another noteworthy scholar’s book.  Eliezar has studied the same thing his entire life, and although he has been nominated every year to receive the Israel Prize, he never receives it.  In turn, he is very critical of his son’s work, which is much more philosophical and less grounded in fact, as he believes.  Despite this, Uriel has been exceedingly successful in his career.

The rest of the plot I will leave for you to discover.  The characters are very interesting.  Uriel always feels as if he has to overcome his father’s poor reputation in the scholarly community, while Eliezar  believes that he himself is one of the most knowledgeable scholars.  He will publicly criticize his own son, despite his own failings.  The marriages and father-son relationships are strained and cyclical.

Yes, I did say that there is a comedic element to this film.  It is constantly teetering between character implosion and circumstantial humor that makes it a somewhat stressful viewing experience.

The film is beautiful, the acting is wonderful, and the characters are deeply complex.  It is the story that I found as slow as molasses.  I believe that Footnote is worth one viewing, but after that I would rather spend my hours on something else.

If you generally enjoy foreign films and don’t mind a slower pace, this is something that I would recommend for you.  Otherwise, I would recommend viewing something else.

(WARNING: Trailer contains major spoilers!)

A Separation (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

A Separation (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 2 awards, of which it won 1.
Nominated for Best Original Screenplay (Asghar Farhadi).
Won Best Foreign Language Film (Iran).
Watched April 2, 2013.


Even though foreign films, different languages, and subtitles are not my thing, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how amazing A Separation is.  It is starkly honest in conveying its own culture’s weaknesses, as well as its strengths, and the subtlety of its delivery is very moving.


The film opens in a courtroom.  A man and a woman, husband and wife, stare directly into the camera as the woman tries desperately to prove that she has grounds for a divorce.  Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to take her daughter somewhere out of the country, and she will go with or without her husband.  Nader (Payman Maadi), on the other hand, will not leave because his father has alzheimers and he has to care for him.  He will give her permission for a divorce, but won’t let her take their daughter.


Because Simin moves out, Nader hires a woman to take care of both the house and his father.  Razieh (Sareh Bayat) has to bring her young daughter to work every day, as well as commute ninety minutes each way.  Although it is clear from the beginning, the arrangement is more to Nader’s liking than Razieh’s, things soon get more serious as Nader’s father’s health takes a drastic downturn and Razieh feels as if her morals have been compromised.


Although the beginning is slow, and at first I wasn’t quite sure where the story was going, things eventually took a drastic turn.  I won’t reveal what that is, except that the family suddenly finds themselves in the courts again, but this time for a much more serious reason than divorce.


The acting is exquisite and almost all of the characters have such a depth and likability that it is hard to root for just one of them.  The plot takes some unexpected turns, but also shows a side of Iran that many in the states don’t get to see, which I quite enjoyed.  The cultural differences are interesting but are not the driving force behind the film.  The story, production design, cinematography, and acting are all forces to be reckoned with, and when it comes down to it, this just might be a foreign film to top the charts.


Even if foreign films aren’t your thing (like me!), I would definitely recommend A Separation for you!  You should be aware that it is a drama full of a lot of dialogue (and therefore a lot of subtitles), but I found it completely worthwhile.  There is an interesting clash between honesty, religious beliefs, family, and manipulation that pull the whole story together into something great.

[trailer contains some spoilers]