The film from Germany has the most buzz, but the Icelandic and Cambodian films are sensational and extremely moving. India and Norway have also submitted some of the strongest films of the year. So here's our breakdown on these 15 films.
All Quiet on the Western Front is the latest submission for Germany. And it’s a stunner. It’s a bleak, relentless, brutal depiction of World War I. It follows four best friends who enlist into the German army full of patriotism having no idea what’s ahead of them. Not a lot of films are made from the German perspective, and even less are made that make you feel completely sympathetic to the young German men. But these men aren’t monsters. There is no right or wrong side. They’re soldiers following orders from deranged leaders. The film perfectly captures the agony of survival, the fear of death and the humanizing of soldiers who do not fully comprehend what they’re doing. They all just want to go back home. The film is terrifyingly realistic, emotionally exhausting, and incredibly difficult to watch. Every scene slowly builds more fear for these men and for us. It's an unnerving, engaging experience that never lets up and never lets you forget why we should never start a war. The only time that we can breathe throughout the entire film are the few tiny moments when it truly is quiet on the western front.
Beautiful Beings, the submission from Iceland, is one of the most violent films of the year. And one of the best. The film is focused on a group of boys, Addi, Konni and Siggi who bring a new member into their gang, Baldur. Director Guomundur Arnar Guomundsson has created a sad, raw portrayal of tough masculinity set in a tough environment. It’s a brutal, tender, honest, emotional film about male affection and male bonds in a cruel neighbourhood where all of these boys are carrying the burden of their unfortunate upbringings. Beautiful Beings is loaded with violence but the most striking moments of the film are the small moments of complete delicacy and beauty between male friendships. Especially in a world that is cruel and dark. The four talented actors who play Baldur, Addi, Konni and Siggi make this film truly special. They’re all beautiful beings set in a world that isn’t always so beautiful. It is utterly and completely heartbreaking, and yet strangely optimistic.
War Sailor is an exceptional film from Norway. The film is based on the true story of 30,000 Norwegians who sailed for the British allies using their merchant fleet during World War II. The film is a very strong re-telling about the life of sailors before, during and after World War II. Director Gunnar Vikene has done a fantastic job of showing the horrors of war, and the turmoils that happen, not only for the innocent people fighting, but as well as the people waiting back home. The years and years of non-stop struggling to survive is agonizing to watch. Kristoffer Joner and Pal Sverre Hagen are both terrific as the lead performers. It’s a film of survival. It’s a film about life, and the need to continue to somehow live. It’s a film about hope. It’s a film about two men who became war sailors, and heroes.
(India - Last Film Show)
The two submissions from India and United Kingdom are about the power of cinema and the love that we share watching films.
Last Film Show, the submission from India, is a film about the celebration of storytelling and cinema. And even more, it’s a film about chasing one’s passions and dreams. The film takes place in the tiny village of Chalala in the Gujarat region of India, close to the border with Pakistan. It’s about a young boy named Samay who lives close to the Chalala train station where his father sells hot chai tea to passengers during a stopover. After watching a movie in the theatre with his family, his passion for films begin. Director Pan Nalin has created a masterclass film filled with childlike curiosity for the love of cinema that we all share. The look in the eyes of Samay as he watches every film possible inside the theatre is one of the most breathtaking moments to see this year. And his determination to make his dreams come true. No matter what. Cinema has no boundaries. Stories need to be told. And everyone has a unique story.
The submission from United Kingdom called Winners is set in a tiny town of Garmsar, around two hours east of Tehran. The film is about a nine year old boy, Yahya, and his passion for cinema and about a man, Naser, who has given up his old life as an actor. When Yahya and his best friend Leila find an Oscar statuette on the side of the road, their adventure begins. Director Hassan Nazer has created a charming, beautiful, tender film about two children who come across something truly special. And this film is a love letter to cinema. Films allow us to dream. Films allow us to escape. Films allow to us to experience worlds we’ve never seen before.
(Venezuela - The Box)
These next two films are about searching for ones parents but in different ways. One girl is trying to find her biological parents, while one teenage boy is looking for his father, after he's identified as being dead.
Return to Seoul is the submission for Cambodia and it’s such a superb film on the adoptee experience and the challenges of having two completely different nationalities. The film is focused on Freddie, played brilliantly by Park Ji-Min, who was born in South Korea but was dropped off at an adoption agency when she was a baby. After a few years she was adopted by a family and taken to France. Davy Chou has created a masterful film about the difficulties of having dual identities and the repercussions that comes with not really fitting in. It isn’t always so simple to figure out who you are or what you want. Nothing is certain in this life. Places change. People change. And tomorrow might be different. For Freddie, she doesn’t know what the future will hold for her, but for now, as she searches to feel complete and whole, she’ll continue her life as if something is missing. And it’s a part of the painful healing process of being adopted.
Venezuela has submitted The Box. Set in the region of Chihuahua, the film focuses on a teenage boy, Hatzin, who lives with his grandmother after the passing of his mother. His father, Esteban, abandoned him when he was a baby but he's recently been identified as deceased. Hatzin makes the journey from Mexico City to Northern Mexico to pickup the remains but along on his journey he meets someone who could actually be his dad. Lorenzo Vigas has created a simple, beautiful film about the story of a young boy who’s willing to abandon his morality for his father’s love. It’s an uncompromising coming of age story set in a corrupt Mexico where laws aren’t followed and people go missing everyday.
(Estonia - Kalev)
The inspirational sports drama Kalev is the latest submission for Estonia. Set in Tallinn in the summer of 1990, the film is about the national Estonian basketball team called Kalev who are about to participate in the Soviet Union basketball championship just as the Baltic countries are all trying to gain independence from the USSR. The film begins with Aivar, the star of his team, and the rest of the players beginning their training sessions in preparation for the biggest tournament of the year. As Latvia and Lithuania have declared independence, the Estonian team is now being faced with a very difficult decision. Should they play in the tournament, which is for Russian players, or should they skip it? Director Ove Musting has created a fantastic film during such an important time for Estonia, not only because of the basketball team, but because of their independence as a nation. Kalev is a tightly edited, highly entertaining, thrilling film, with wonderful performances. It feels like you’re a part of the game, and part of the sports arena cheering them on.
(Algeria - Our Brothers)
The films submitted by Algeria and the Philippines delve head on into corruption and police brutality.
Our Brothers is the submission for Algeria. The film is focused on the student protests against a university reform bill in Paris in 1986. These demonstrations led to brutal attacks from the police force which resulted in the deaths of two innocent young men: Malik and Abdel. The film is based on real events. Director Bouchareb has created a heartbreaking film recreating the events that happened in Paris during a tumultuous time in France. He was able to blend in perfectly the usage of archive footages to show actual moments that occurred during this time. It made the film feel very authentic. The film is shot with a sense of coldness and bleakness. And it’s all told very delicately and accurately. The film is a reminder that these transgressions are continuing to happen today. And it’s a film remembering the lives that have been lost. It’s a film dedicated to our fallen brothers.
On The Job: The Missing 8 is the latest submission for the Philippines and it’s a sequel to the film On The Job. Director Erik Matti has created an epic 3 hr 30 film inspired by the true story of eight people who’re killed viciously in the city of La Paz, around two hours north of Manila. The film is about Sisoy Salas, a journalist who begins to investigate the killing of a friend and colleague. And about Roman Rubio, a hired assassin, who is currently in prison but is allowed to leave temporarily to perform assassinations. Erik Matti’s latest film portrays the Philippines as a nation so entrenched in corruption that unfortunately the only way for even the best of people to make any progress in their investigation is to get their hands dirty too. The film is so much more than just the missing eight, but for the hundreds and hundreds of people that have gone missing and killed due to politics and due to corrupt and greedy individuals.
(Singapore - Ajoomma)
Ajoomma is the newest film from director He Shuming and it’s the latest submission for Singapore. The film is about a mother who’s lost her husband and lives alone with her son in an apartment. As her son is preoccupied with work and other activities, Lin Bee Hwa spends most of her days watching Korean soap operas. She becomes so obsessed with the show that she's booked a trip to go to Seoul to go to all the spots where the tv show is filmed. Ajoomma is a heartwarming, funny, extremely charming film about motherhood, loneliness, rediscovering oneself and learning to be more independent by trying new things. Hong Huifang gives a wonderful performance as a woman and mother having a second shot at life to do things differently. She will have more confidence and live more boldly. She will change for herself. She will start all over again from the beginning.
Il Boemo is the submission for Czechia. Petr Vaclav has directed a film about the life of Josef Myslivecek spanning his career from 1765 to his tragic death in 1781. Myslivecek is one of the most acclaimed and prolific composers of opera in Italy during his time. Vaclav introduces us to the world of Italian opera and to all the ups and downs associated with it. The costumes in Il Boemo are absolutely stunning, as is the make-up, especially in the latest days in Josef's life. Despite having a fantastic career lasting almost two decades, the hardships of being a composer is shown throughout Il Boemo. Regardless of having all the success, Myslivecek still struggled financially and socially, never being able to make any lasting connections. His career was overshadowed by Mozart and other composers during his time and this film is a tribute to a man who dedicated his life to the thing he enjoyed doing the most: music.
Now of these 15 films, there’s a chance that perhaps three of them will make the shortlist. If we had to pick three, and this is solely based on who we think will be nominated, we would single out the following:
All Quiet on the Western Front - After its debut at the Toronto Film Festival, the German film became an instant favourite. The buzz for the film hasn't stopped since either. With Netflix debuting the film at the end of October it's now easily available for everyone worldwide. And the film can potentially not only get a nomination for International Feature, but for best cinematography, best production design, best editing, best sound and more. The film is just incredible and unforgettable.
Beautiful Beings - The Icelandic film is one that we really hope will get shortlisted in December. We haven't been able to stop thinking about it. After its debut at the Berlin Film Festival, the film has been receiving some of the best reviews of the year. Since then it's played in more than 25 film festivals. It has some of the best reviews on Letterboxd and iMDB. And Iceland is always a contender.
Return to Seoul - This was a toss up between Cambodia, India and Norway. It's always so hard to pick when there are so many great films to choose from. But we feel that the Cambodian film has the edge. It debuted to fantastic reviews from Cannes Film Festival. It's playing at nearly every film festival and it's been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics and Mubi. The film has a Metacritic score of 82. And it has one of the best female performances of the year. We feel that it has the edge over the other films right now.
We now have 17 films to go before watching all 92 International Feature submissions.