Best Foreign Language Film

Monsieur Lazhar (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Monsieur Lazhar (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Canada).
Watched March 8, 2013.


Although foreign films and subtitles are not my forte, Philippe Falardeau and Canada’s Monsieur Lazhar was refreshing after the last foreign film Bullhead.  Despite the fact the this film also deals with some hard life occurrences, it does so in such a polished, well practiced way that it is much easier to appreciate this film.


In the opening scenes, a sixth grade student Simon (Émilien Néron) discovers his teacher who hung herself in their classroom.  He goes running for a teacher and the camera stays still on an empty hallway, communicating a stunned silence.  What feels almost like minutes later, teachers rush into the hallway to push returning students back out to recess.


The school scrambles.  They get a psychologist to talk to the class and their story is publicized all throughout town.  This results in Bachir Lazhar (Mohammed Fellag) walking in right off the streets and putting himself up for the open position of teacher.


The class he inherits is, clearly, very emotionally distraught, but Lazhar is prohibited from even mentioning the incident that they are struggling over, to the students or much less the teachers who knew her best.  The students give us a glimpse into their own turmoil–Alice (Sophie Nélisse) writes an honest diction discussing how their late teacher’s decision was violent and selfish.  He mother is  a flight attendant and is never home, so she reaches out to Lazhar for some much needed support.


The film also makes fun of the many laws prohibiting instructors from any sort of physical contact with their students.  On the one hand, we hear a sad story of Simon and their late teacher that makes us believe these laws are there for a reason, but with Alice we believe the complete opposite.


The characters and acting were all very well done.  While Lazhar struggles to become established in Canada as an Algerian refugee after his wife and children were burned alive back home, he finds a connection with his students and eventually breaks the rules and discusses their teacher with them.  Simon finally opens up about his, yes childish, but completely honest and heartbreaking feelings about discovering her body, saying that she knew he would be the one to find her.


Although the story sounds sad, and it certainly has its tear inducing moments, it isn’t quite the heartbreaker that you might think.  Lazhar brings a redeeming quality and an interesting way of teaching that makes you want to see how the kids will flourish under his instruction.  The relationships, between certainly every character in the film, are all fascinating and worth the almost two hour film.


If you have patience for foreign films and character studies, this is definitely one that I would suggest.  It’s a slow pace, but definitely an interesting premise that affects every character down to the core.

Bullhead (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Bullhead (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
1/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Michael R. Roskam – Belgium).
Watched February 10, 2013.


Bullhead is a tough watch from almost the very beginning.  Although the opening ambiguous shots are overlapped by an almost poetic narrative, the beauty is short lived.  The entire film views like an independent, but the opening half hour is more like a student film.


Once the technique cleans itself up, I could focus more on the story.  Unfortunately I wasn’t encouraged by what I saw.  It is the underworld of pumping hormones into cows in Berlin.  You wouldn’t think it would be as seedy as it is, but it’s like the mob, only with our friendly barnyard animals and their owners.  There are dealers, mob bosses, informants, comedic reliefs, and police investigations.  Underneath it all, there is a dark storyline that alters the whole mood of the film when it reveals itself.


Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) is the one bright spot in the entire film.  He is a dark, hulking, heavy lidded man who doesn’t talk much but tends toward anger after drinking and stalking a pretty shop girl.  His dark secret causes him to push everyone away because he fears he will never truly belong.  His family’s farm has been benefiting from hormones for years, but after eating with the boss, he gets skittishish about the police investigation.  Schoenaerts pulls off this deep and complex chracter exquisitely.


Jacky’s story seems completely separate from the rest of the film.  It is as if someone thought of an idea for a never before seen character study but kept adding more and more sub-plot–so much so that the main idea got lost by it.  The two story lines are at war with one another–not to mention the actors who are all fighting for screen time.  Although the cinematography is appropriately dark, I found zero redeeming qualities in this film.  What might be considered a bright comedic point is probably lost in translation and the frequent bits between two idiotic mechanics didn’t bring me a lot of laughs.


As a result, after watching Bullhead, I am incredibly wary of the rest of the foreign language film nominations from this year.  Perhaps I should not judge them all by this experience, because it was an F in my book.  I do not recommend this film.

Sources: Jared Mobarak DesignIMDBRotten TomatoesAcid Cinema

A Special Day (Una Giornata Particolare) (1977) Review | Jamie Daily

A Special Day (Una Giornata Particolare) (1977)
50th Academy Awards 1978
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 2 awards.
Nominated for Best Actor (Marcello Mastroianni) and Best Foreign Language Film (Italy).
Watched September 8, 2012.

A Special Day is an Italian film that takes place on the day that Adolf Hitler first met Mussolini: May 8, 1938.  It opens with old black and white footage of Hitler’s train rolling in, the crowds gathered to greet him, and the multitude of flags fluttering from every window and ledge.  The entire film revolves around this day, but Hitler graces very little of it.  In fact, after the introduction, we see no more of him and are instead treated to color shots (although muted) of a dilapidated apartment building that is continuously ringing with the radio broadcast of the momentous parade.  Antionetta (Sophia Loren) is a housewife with six children and a demanding, adulterous husband (John Vernon).  Her only constant companions are the family bird and the warden (Francoise Berd).  She is almost the only person in the entire building who hasn’t gone to the parade–she has too much to do!  She is a passive fascist, which is fitting because her husband works in the government and loves Hitler (he wants to name their next child Adolf).


As Antionetta begins her daily cleaning routine, the pet bird suddenly escapes, and miracle of miracles, it happens to land right outside the window of the only remaining tenant, Gabriele (Marcello Mastroianni).  We notice immediately that these two characters are both incredibly alone, although in different capacities.  Gabriele is what the caretaker says is an antifascist, although he claims the fascists are anti-Gabriele.  The two connect through the bird, and then coffee, and their day-long relationship continues to crescendo.  Although Antionetta is concerned about what others might think if they were seen alone in her apartment, she quickly ceases to be apart from him.  They come to a brief understanding of one another–to find companionship and love in the arms of someone they should not or cannot.


It is slow moving and transparent.  The radio broadcast that is boring into your brain serves as a reminder of how the politics of the time where overbearing on its subjects and yet they attempted to live their lives normally.  The static cinematography emphasizes the standstill of their lives–the monotony and routine repetition.  Through the use of long moving, following shots they reveal that through this monotony and oppression, life goes on, and opposes many communist ideals that it does not all come back to one man but is individualized by everyone who has their own life, opinions, worries.


I wasn’t a fan of the sound mixing.  It is a problem I notice with a lot of older films, and that is that their foley art* is exaggerated and occasionally unrealistic.  The sound mixing also has things happening either too loudly or too softly.  It was a bit distracting for me.


Sophia Loren was considered a great beauty and therefore to see her dressed down to look like a tired and worn mother in her forties shows her dedication to the film.  She has an innocence that the audience can connect to, which despite the subtitles and muted colors, made the film enjoyable.  If you are looking for a slow film and want to immerse yourself in the late 30’s of Rome, I would encourage you to search out this film, although it was pretty hard for me to find.  There are a few twists here and there that are somewhat predictable but are interesting character facets.

*Fo·ley  [foh-lee]
of or pertaining to motion-picture sound effects produced manually: Foley artist.


Sources: Monicca Bellucci FanTuttogratisIMDBRotten TomatoesDennis GrunesFlick Feast