a theatre, film & pop culture review
Full disclosure: I was only able to view Dogtooth and Biutiful, as Outside the Law and Incendies have not yet been released in the US, and as In a Better World is in that frustrating phase between theaters and dvd release. For all intents and purposes, this seems to be a competition between two films, and so take the following with a grain of salt..
A drama about the Algerian struggle for independence from France after WWII, The New York Times declares Outside the Law “a didactic, unashamedly manipulative film,” and it’s barely — if at all — mentioned in the critical discourse concerning this award. At this point it’s fair to assume Algeria’s entry is near the bottom of the Academy’s list. I say that knowing full well that Dogtooth, which won or was nominated for a slew of film festival awards, is likely the absolute bottom choice for voters (how it was nominated for the Oscar, we’ll never know). A highly disturbing, bizarre and provoking film, Greece’s entry offers the nightmare version of parental over-protectiveness: three essentially adult children have never been allowed to venture past the grounds of their house; they are home-schooled, and are inexplicably taught the incorrect meanings of words; and when the son requires sexual release… well, let’s just say the parents are A-Ok with keeping it all in the family. Shocking at times (a tooth extracting scene tops the 127 Hours‘s arm-sawing in gross-out, cringe-inducing horror), alternately fascinating and frustrating at others (we never know why the parents have chosen to raise their children this way), Dogtooth encourages discourse, but the conclusion the filmmakers are searching for is unclear. And Oscars voters are going to run in the other direction.
I already discussed González Iñárritu’s Biutiful within the realm of the Best Actor in a Leading Role category, and there isn’t much to add besides the fact that its resolute bleakness, combined with melodramatic tendencies, leaves little to beholden it to voters. You can count this one out of the race.
Which leaves us with the two real contenders, neither of which I’ve seen. In Incendies, when a mother passes away, her children, fraternal twins, embark on a journey to the Middle East in search of a brother they never knew they had. Based on the acclaimed play, Scorched, by Wajdi Mouawad, the trailer intrigues, and this Canadian French-language film appears to tell a complex story in a vivid, riveting manner, garnering it great reviews. Golden Globe-winner In a Better World is set in a quiet village in Denmark and an African refugee camp in a country torn by civil war. By all accounts, it’s well-acted, and the trailer definitely makes it appear all high stakes, all the time, but it’s also been accused by some as being condescending in its ethics on violence. Nevertheless, it’s the favorite to to capture the Oscar tomorrow night due to its big, sweeping topic that is both domestic and international.