A SUMMARY OF THE FIFTH SET OF FILMS THAT WE'VE WATCHED
DECEMBER 19, 2023
(Moldova, Mexico, Iceland)
Initially, there were 92 films submitted this year for International Feature. Four of them ended up being disqualified, making it an official list of 88 films. We tried to watch all 92 despite the disqualifications, and we managed to watch 90 of them before the announcement of the shortlisted films on December 21st.
The two films not watched are The Peasants (Poland) and Society of the Snow (Spain). We'll be watching them this upcoming weekend.
Two of the best films we've watched so far deal with a loss of innocence due to an unfortunate situation for these two young girls.
TOTEM is the International Feature submission for MEXICO. The film is about Sol, a seven year old girl, who is headed to a birthday party for her dad, Tona, who’s extremely frail and ill. Today is his 27th birthday and, despite his reluctance, all of his family and friends are coming together to what might be his final celebration of life. On the morning of the gathering, Sol’s theatrical-performer mother drops her off at the family home where Tona is in the care of his sisters Nuri and Alejandra. His father, Roberto, also lives in the house, along with Tona’s nurse Cruz. Cancer seems to run in this family as Roberto’s wife died of the disease several years earlier and now Tona is about to have a similar fate. Sometimes one event, one day, can force a girl to grow up. It’s that simple realization that however close one is with their family, with their friends, with their bonds of affection with others, one will always be alone. One can be in a room filled with the clattering and the cheering and the energy of a family united, yet one can feel completely on their own. It’s like a held breath. It’s like becoming fully aware that not all wishes come true. And that everyone’s time on Earth is short lived.
THUNDERS is the International Feature submission for MOLDOVA. The film is set sometime after the war ended between Moldova and Transnistria in the 1990's. Ten year old Zinca, along with her father and brother live an extremely simple life in the countryside. Their life revolves around working in the woods, in the fields taking care of their horses and cows, and living off the bare necessities. Zinca doesn’t attend school, and she helps alongside her family with the daily chores. When a new family moves next door, Zinca begins to form a relationship with a boy named Victor. His family is wealthy and despite his growing friendship with Zinca, his parents forbid him to hang out with her. This is mostly due to her being lower class. But despite their objections they spend everyday together picking cherries, riding Victor’s bike, and hanging out in each other’s houses. One day, Zinca’s precious cow wanders into the mined pasture past the barb-wired fence. As the cow is pregnant and feeds her family, she desperately wanders into the field alongside Victor to rescue her. What unfolds next is a harrowing nerve-racking non-linear story that begins to shed a light on both diverse families, their upbringings, their hopes and dreams, and their goals for the future.
(Czechia - Brothers)
Escaping one's country, either to defend it or to runaway from it, are the key themes for these next two films.
BROTHERS is the International Feature submission for CZECHIA. The film takes place in Prague in 1950. It follows brothers Josef and Ctirad Masin after the Communists seized power in Czechoslovakia. Their father was murdered in prison eight years before, due to his anti-Nazi resistance group, and they’re now trying to adjust to their new lives, along with their mother, Zdena, and their sister Nenda. Zdena forcibly refuses to conform to Communism and as a result the backlash is swift. Josef and Ctirad are denied access to continue their studies and later, the entire family is evicted from their home. They end up in a decrepit farmhouse outside of Prague. Influenced by their father’s belief, and outraged at their recent treatment, both brothers begin a plan to respond back to the tyranny. The Masins shared the idea that the Americans, who had helped establish Czechoslovakia, would soon come and wipe out Communism. After hearing on a radio station, broadcasted by the Americans, that an imminent invasion was on the way, and that help was needed, the two brothers, along with a group of a few friends, decide to form a military resistance. The boys begin a series of acts against the oppressive regime, some of them involving killing policemen. They also hatch a plan to escape their own country and flee to West Germany to join the American forces in their battle against the regime.
VOY! VOY! VOY! is the International Feature submission for EGYPT. Set in 2013 during an extremely difficult period for the country, Hassan is trying to do anything to escape the country. When his 70 year old British fiancee unexpectedly dies and his dreams of heading to Europe shatters, Hassan begins to think of new ideas for his escape. He cannot afford the expensive smuggling route from Egypt to Italy since his current job as a car park security guard is barely enough to pay his bills. And with his limited education and mediocre skills, he has limited opportunities for success in a country where few options are available. Hassan though is resourceful, and one day he meets a blind man at his job who looks completely normal. He then stumbles across a newspaper article featuring a team of blind Egyptian footballers who are scheduled to take part in an international competition in Poland. Being the con artist that he is, Hassan decides to feign vision loss and after practising to be blind in his impoverished apartment, he manages to join the football team, pretending that he recently lost his eyesight due to a brain disease. He’s an instant star on the team. And his path to Europe has begun.
(Egypt - Voy! Voy! Voy!)
Preaching religion to a new region or to a new group of people are the central components of these next two films.
GODLAND is the International Feature submission for ICELAND. The film is set in the late 1800’s. Lucas, a Danish priest, has been instructed to head to Iceland to build a church and to save the souls of the few residents who live in this godforsaken corner of Denmark’s empire. He is told by his bishop that he must adapt to the circumstances of the country and its people. Under-equipped for the task but extremely eager to get started, Lucas sets sail on a boat ready for his adventure, carrying his heavy photographic apparatus and way too many books. After a bumpy sea journey, Lucas lands in a remote part of Iceland where he is greeted by Ragnar, and a few other locals. They are tasked with bringing the priest to the site where the new church is to be built. Surrounded by the immense and often terrifying beauty of the landscape, Lucas wants to do it the hard way, by walking from the west coast of the island to his final destination so that he gets to know the land, photograph it and its people. The expedition begins and the group of islanders set off on their journey, all the while Lucas is completely naive to what awaits him.
HALF HEAVEN is the International Feature submission for CAMEROON. The film takes place in Victoria, close to Limbe. Kizito is a preacher, an evangelist, who spreads the word of God to those who don’t believe in Christ. Raised in an orphanage without ever knowing his parents, Kizito is extremely devoted to his religion, never faltering from what he believes in, including avoiding pre-marital sex, smoking, drinking and anything that he considers to be sinful. His community loves him, praising him for all the good that he’s doing amongst his peers. But, because of all this adoration, the head pastor is worried that his position as the head of the Church might be in jeopardy. Kizito’s goal is to get ordained this year and in order to be eligible, he must accomplish an apostolic mission for a month by heading to an outside village around Cameroon. His sole goal is to convert at least one individual. In retaliation though, the pastor decides to send him to Mboko, a dreaded and godless ghetto, where crime and poverty is prevalent. Upon arriving to this town, Kizitio is robbed and stripped of all his belongings. Lost and with nowhere to go, he ends up in a brothel where he meets Bisona, a highly regarded prostitute who invites him to stay at her place to keep safe. Reluctant at first, but knowing that it’s his only option, he slowly begins his life changing mission with the help of a woman he least expected to help him in his journey for enlightening.
(Iran - The Night Guardian)
Family drama, loss of a loved one, searching for a better life and new opportunities are all part of these next two films.
THE NIGHT GUARDIAN is the International Feature submission for IRAN. With few opportunities in his small rural village of Karizan, Rasoul, who just turned 25, has made the journey to Tehran searching for work. After several failed attempts, he finally gets the chance to work for Mohandes, a real estate mogul who’s building his newest apartment complex. When Rasoul arrives to the site, the state of the construction is utter chaos. The project has barely made any progress, despite starting five years ago. Squatters have been living in the empty rooms. The workers haven’t been paid in months, and some not in a year. No one seems to know what to do. But despite all of the warning signs, Rasoul accepts the position as the night watchman. After signing the contract, Rasoul’s tasks are to help with the workers during the day, and then to stay watch at night for any trespassers. He gets to live in the complex, in a tiny container home. He’s happy with the arrangement, and he begins to form a bond with Daei, a friend of Mohandes and the project leader of the site. Daei helps Rasoul get accustomed to his new environment. They work together, they build together, they share stories together. With Rasoul being extremely shy and timid and single, Daei also tries to set him up with Nasibeh, a pretty young girl who he thinks would be a perfect match for him. Rasoul’s life is quickly changing, by having a new job and a potential new girlfriend, but things never go according to plan, and soon he’ll be up for a rude awakening.
A LIGHT NEVER GOES OUT is the International Feature submission for HONG KONG. The film follows Auntie Heung, the elderly wife of a master neon sign craftworker, Bill, who passed away six weeks ago. Heung is grieving and spends her days feeding coins into the slot machines of an empty arcade game hall. Her daughter Prism, who lives with her, is mostly absent and is distant since the death of their loved one. Suffering from insomnia, Heung wanders around her apartment doing laundry at night and cooking for dinners for three, including a meal for her deceased husband. One day, she finds a set of keys inside Bill’s pants which says “Bill’s Neon.” Thinking that her husband closed the business several years ago, she is shocked to discover that he’s been secretly continuing the business alongside his young apprentice Leo for all of these years. After being talked into keeping the business running, Heung decides to continue in her husband’s footsteps and recreate some of the best giant neon signs that were forced to close due to the government crackdown. After paying all of the debt, with the help of Leo and crowdfunding, Heung is on a mission to fulfill her husband’s dying wish.
(Serbia - The Duke and the Poet)
THE DUKE AND THE POET is the International Feature submission for SERBIA. Mihailo Obrenovic was the ruling Prince of Serbia from 1838 to 1842 and again from 1860 to 1868. After his father passed away in 1860, Mihailo was accepted back as the Prince after 18 years of exile. The film takes place in May in 1868 during a one week period. Mihailo is engaged to Katarina, the daughter of his first cousin, Princess Anka. Contrary to what he believed, this marriage proposal is met with much protest from the politicians, clergy and the general public. Mihailo is hoping to gain approval from the local bishop for their union. He is also under a lot of pressure to have a heir. Burdened by guilt over ascending to power following the death of his brother, Mihailo never wanted to be a leader, as he much prefers writing poems and creating art rather than leading the country. On May 24, 1868, Mihailo’s best friend and daguerreotype enthusiast, Anastas, rushes to the palace over a series of dreams he’s been having the past few days. He foretells Mihailo’s violent death, along with his fiancee, and several others. Anastas has also been taking images of the duke’s profile, but every picture always comes out with a smudge. He feels like something isn’t right, but Mihailo brushes it off, claiming that his people are behind him after liberating the country from the Turks. Anastas begs him to reinforce his army, to stay hidden away from the public, and to always be vigilant and careful. Mihailo though refuses to compromise his life, despite all the warnings.
THE WANDERING EARTH II is the International Feature submission for CHINA. The film is about the start of a catastrophic situation. As the sun becomes an expanding red giant and threatens to engulf the Earth in 100 years, the United Nations, now renamed as the United Earth Government, decides to proceed with a new project called the Moving Mountain. It’s a proposal of building ten thousand gigantic nuclear fusion engines that can propel the Earth out of the Solar System. Its long term goal is to move the Earth to a more habitable star system. A second project is also proposed, which is called the Lunar Exile Project, and it involved pushing the Moon away from the Earth, utilizing three fusion engines to minimize its gravitational attraction to Earth. As both projects are getting built, a series of terrorist attacks occur trying to stop the success of these plans. These terrorists support another proposal called the Digital Life Project. This idea to continue human civilization through digital immortality by developing mind uploading technologies. Although the engineers working on the Moving Mountain Project are able to stop the attackers, the hijackers are successful in their attempt to stop all operations. Due to this attack, many countries working on the pilot program pull out, leaving China alone to finishing construction of the Lunar Project and the Earth engine. Now, the toughest part of this entire season is picking the list of films we think will get shortlisted. We are not fans of predictions. We just hope that The Academy members took the time to watch ALL the films and not just the ones with some buzz and exposure. There are some incredible films that should be shortlisted but due to lack of awareness they probably won't - and it's the hardest part of this journey every year.
With that said, here are the 15 films we think will get shortlisted on Wednesday.
We feel quite comfortable that these eight films will make it in and we'll be very surprised if they miss:
United Kingdom - The Zone of Interest Spain - Society of the Snow Finland - Fallen Leaves Japan - Perfect Days Italy - Io Capitano Germany - The Teachers' Lounge France - The Taste of Things Mexico - Totem
Documentaries have been such a hit this year, with four of them potentially having the chance at getting shortlisted twice. But, will that affect them in the end? Will voters think that getting into documentary is sufficient enough? These are the four films:
Ukraine - 20 Days in Mariupol Tunisia - Four Daughters Estonia - Smoke Sauna Sisterhood Morocco - The Mother of All Lies
Based on statistics, and ratings, we think all of these films have a chance at getting shortlisted too:
Argentina - The Delinquents Australia - Shayda Bhutan - The Monk and the Gun Chile - The Settlers Denmark - The Promised Land Iceland - Godland Jordan - Inshallah a Boy Lithuania - Slow Nigeria - Mami Wata Poland - The Peasants Romania - Do Not Expect Too Much of the End of the World Sudan - Goodbye Julia Turkey - About Dry Grasses
That's 25 films. So in the end, we have picked the following 15 films:
Australia - Shayda Bhutan - The Monk and the Gun Denmark - The Promised Land Finland - Fallen Leaves France - The Taste of Things Germany - The Teachers' Lounge Iceland - Godland Italy - Io Capitano Japan - Perfect Days Mexico - Totem Poland - The Peasants Spain - Society of the Snow Tunisia - Four Daughters Ukraine - 20 Days in Mariupol United Kingdom - The Zone of Interest