Saturday, September 25, 2010

Foreign Film Race: Coco Martin's Winning Moves, France's Losing Streak

Coco Martin (left) is smiling because his career is going so nicely, thank you very much. He employs the savvy modern move of many a contemporary Hollywood star which is to say he alternates between mainstream projects for the fame/money and indie films for the cred. 'One for audiences, one for me' as it were (see also: Clooney, Moore and dozens of American A-listers). The irony for stars outside of the Bollywood and Hollywood mega-systems though is that the "art" or indie projects are really the only way you get fame/money in the international sphere, since that's the stuff that travels and wins international honors in other countries

Coco is the star of the Pinoy Oscar submission Noy which he also co-wrote and co-produced. If you recognize him at all, it's probably as the frequent muse of The Philippines most internationally recognized director Brillante Dante Mendoza for whom he starred in the violent Cannes lauded/loathed Kinatay, the gay DVD hit The Masseur and in Serbis about a troubled family running a porn theater which had a brief US run.

Mendoza has nothing to do with this film, but I bring it up because Coco's next film, a reunion with Brillante Mendoza, is called Captured and will co-star none other than Isabelle Huppert. Talk about reasons for a young actor to smile.

 Coco plus Isabelle for lucky man Mendoza

I'm pretty sure I compile the foreign film charts each year mostly due to my OCD with movies. Sadly, with distribution the way it is and the new Academy Best Picture field expanded to 10, one dream of mine will always be a windmill to tilt at. I've always wanted to cover both races head on, as if it's Best English Language Picture vs. Best Picture in a Language Other Than English for some invisible Best of Best Statue within the same Oscar coverage year. But now, even if all of 15 pictures were released in time, which they never are, it'd be a lopsided head on battle, 10 against 5. The symmetry is all ruined even if the sorry state of foreign film distribution hadn't already done the dream in.

Still... in the fantasy movie land inside my head where there are never any time constraints and watching movies happens in the blink of an eye so you can fit dozens into each day without eye strain, I have always hoped to one day place them head to head, like Best Foreign Film Shortlist 1970 vs. Best Picture Shortlist 1970 = which is better? which is the best of the best? Etcetera. Someday...

Austria to France. I've just seen France's entry Of Gods and Men and it's a strong tear wringing contender that handily avoids the treacly by going quiet and meditative to look at the last days of a Christian monastery in an increasingly terror-addled Muslim village. I definitely could see it shortlisted but I'm not sure it's a "winner". France has had difficulty with that in the past 30 years. In fact, since their amazing run in the 1970s  -- they won four times in just one decade (!) for The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeousie, Day for Night, Madame Rosa and  Get Our Your Handkerchiefs  -- they've only won once. That was for 1992's Indochine which also landed Catherine Deneuve her only nomination. I'm still sad they lost when The Class (2008) was up for the naked gold man. What a brilliant film that was.

But speaking of Indochine (pictured left) it's interesting that virtually all distributors, even the ones who are good at pushing foreign films like Sony Pictures Classics, have forgotten how much more momentum you can gather if you open in the actual calender year and get yourself on top ten lists and in other Oscar category races, too.

I recognize there are holes in this theory. It didn't work for Amélie but you know that year had to have been a squeaker with the Bosnian film No Man's Land just edging it out. And it didn't work for The White Ribbon unless you consider that maybe it wouldn't have even been nominated (not exactly their favorite style of film) if it hadn't been able to build such a huge tidal wave of "masterpiece" citations before they had to vote on the nominees plus a last weekend of December release is hardly a "momentum" date.

But still... I'm hoping at least two of the future nominees find a way to play in theaters before the end of the calendar year instead of waiting for February or March and banking on the elusive Oscar spotlight.

Germany to The Netherlands. Greece's Dogtooth and India's Peepli [Live] have had US releases prior to submission announcements. But they're lonely. While many of the submissions have played at either Toronto or Sundance only three (thus far) have seen the insides of regular movie theaters. The other one is Peru's moving gay drama Contracorriente (Undertow).

Norway to Venezuela. I can't imagine Oscar going for Thailand's absolutely bizarre Uncle Boonmee... having now seen it. But I remain pleased that it's in the mix. That said -- and maybe I'm alone in this -- but I think it's more accessible than Apichatpong Weerathesakul's most succesful export thus far, Tropical Malady so I think it could theoretically nab some attention once it's in theaters. How much and when remains to be seen. (More on "Joe's" filmography here in the "Modern Maestros" series.)

I need help. I have been unable to locate movie posters (I have stills already) and official sites for Iran's Farewell Baghdad, Israel's The Human Resources Manager and Macedonia's Mothers if anyone can provide.

Which country are you rooting for thus far? I've seen but three official submissions thus far (Thailand, France and Peru) and all would make worthwhile or at least solid nominees and in roughly that order of preference... More please!

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