IndieWire VP of Editorial Strategy and Executive Editor Eric Kohn is currently filling in for Anne Thompson on predictions updates for this category. See her preliminary thoughts for what to expect at the 95th Academy Awards here.
The State of the Race
Few Oscar categories beyond Best Picture generate as much scrutiny as Best International Feature Film. Non-English language cinema has been jockeying for broader recognition at the Oscars at least since the history-making Best Picture win for “Parasite” in 2020, while the category itself continues to incite debate about the overall process, since every country can only submit one movie for contention on the shortlist for the category. Many of them have already done that this year. October 3 is the official Academy deadline for submissions to the shortlist, which will be announced on December 21, but the hard work is already done for several major contenders. However, with acclaimed films from Austria, Belgium, France, Korea, and Poland vying for attention now that their submissions have been finalized, the category remains tough to call. Over the past decade, a frontrunner for the category solidified early on: “A Fantastic Woman,” “Roma,” “Parasite,” and “Drive My Car” were all well-positioned for their eventual wins. That’s not the case this year, though most films with the strongest chance of getting nominated have been submitted. That includes several Cannes prize-winners looking to keep their accolades going. The most obvious Academy-friendly contender among them is “Close,” the Belgian submission that won the Grand Prix at the festival. The sophomore effort from “Girl” director Lukas Dhont finds the 31-year-old director delivering the emotional story of a 13-year-old boy (Eden Dambrine) struggling with unexpected loss, and it’s exactly the sort of delicate tearjerker certain to satisfy broad facets of the Academy. That may have been what motivated A24, which only releases a handful of non-English films these days, to acquire it for U.S. distribution. Dhont beat out Belgian auteurs Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne for the Belgian submission as their own “Tori and Lokita” also screened at Cannes, but the snub came as no great surprise since “Close” is the bigger crowdpleaser. Missing AttachmentHIFF Yet for all the “Close” love, Dhont is at an early stage of his career, and Park Chan-wook is overdue for Academy recognition. The Korean auteur has maintained a huge international following ever since “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and “Oldboy” established his penchant for gory thrillers two decades ago. However, “Decision to Leave” opens him up to more audiences with a stylish film noir about a detective on the trail of a femme fatale who may or may not have murdered her husband. Park won the Best Director award at Cannes, and MUBI is campaigning for broader recognition of his work as the movie snakes its way through the North American festival circuit. Other major Cannes contenders include “EO,” the nearly wordless story of a wayward donkey directed by the revered 83-year-old Polish Jerzy Skolimowski. The movie, a kind of modern-day update to Robert Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthazar,” found many of fans at Cannes, who embraced its message about animal intelligence. Like Park, Skolimowski has been widely under-appreciated by the Academy, which has never nominated him for an Oscar. Sideshow, the distributor that carried “Drive My Car” to its Oscar win in this category this year, has high hopes for keeping “EO” in serious contention now that Poland has submitted it. Best International Feature Film contenders must be take place predominantly in a language other than English, but that language doesn’t have to be the dominant one of the countries submitting them. That’s the case with the Cannes Best Screenplay winner, “Boy From Heaven.” Sweden has submitted director Tarik Saleh’s Arabic-language drama, which is set in Egypt and largely shot in Istanbul. Saleh, a Swedish citizen who has been banned from Egypt, wrote the script for this stylish drama about a fisherman’s son drawn into a political and religious conspiracy while studying at a prestigious university in Cairo. The movie’s intricate, slow-burn look at institutional corruption and espionage has yielded comparisons to John le Carré and John Grisham, and the absence of such old-school narratives from Hollywood studios could mean that “Boy From Heaven” strikes a chord with many Academy members who miss this brand of paranoid thriller. However, the film has yet to secure a U.S. distributor, which slows its momentum for now. Missing AttachmentCannes But another elegant Cannes title already stands a good shot at the category, as IFC Films is campaigning for Austrian entry “Corsage,” which premiered in the festival’s Un Certain Regard sidebar. Set in 1877 Vienna, director Marie Kreutzer’s intricate period piece stars Vicky Krieps as the feisty Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie in Bavaria, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary as she turns 40 and wrestles with the nuances of royal life. While Krieps faces an uphill battle to crack the competitive Best Actress category, appreciation for her performance gives the movie a leg up for Best International Feature Film. The country to instigate the most speculation about this category in recent weeks is France. Despite its well-documented reverence for cinema, the country hasn’t won an Oscar in 30 years, eliciting recent complaints that the submission process gave an unfair advantage to Cannes titles whether or not they stood a good chance at winning since the festival head Thierry Fremaux held an influence role on the committee (last year’s submission, “Titane,” wasn’t even shortlisted). This year, French minister of culture Rima Abdul Malak overhauled the process so that a new committee chooses the submission every year — and just like that, the final selection did not premiere in Cannes. Instead, director Alice Diop’s first narrative feature “Saint Omer” won both the Grand Jury prize and the award for best debut feature this fall at Venice, where it premiered. Neon label Super Ltd. acquired the movie, which beat out four other French shortlist contenders, including Mia Hansen-Løve’s beloved Cannes Directors’ Fortnight winner “One Fine Morning.” (Distributor Sony Pictures Classics may still campaign for star Léa Seydoux as Best Actress.) Diop, who has directed several celebrated documentaries in recent years, brings a documentarian’s eye to the immersive story of a young novelist (Kayije Kagame) whose attempt to write a new version of the Medea myth finds her scrutinizing the courtroom case of an immigrant woman who murdered her own daughter. These lengthy observations are paired with the writer’s solitary experiences as she plans to give birth and contemplates the challenges faced by Black women that continue to percolate across modern-day France. Missing AttachmentVenice Among the leading contenders for this category, “Saint Omer” is among the more challenging and ambitious, as it includes several extensive courtroom scenes built around powerful monologues. That could make it a tough sit for home viewers watching it on the Academy Screening Room, but others who see it in a theater may be entranced by its immersive spell. The French industry will push hard for the movie to get out there — and the campaign for Diop, who was born to Senegalese parents, may also galvanize the African film community since the continent has no major contenders this year. Finally, the Berlinale Golden Bear winner “Alcarràs” has been a surprise arthouse hit in its native country of Spain, and beat out more obvious commercial titles to be the country’s submission this year. The sophomore effort from 35-year-old Catalan director Carla Simón is the naturalistic look at a rural community where a family fights for the future of their peach farm after their patriarch dies and the owner attempts to evict them. While not as showy as some of the other contenders, it’s an impressive atmospheric work that could leave an impression on many viewers (as did Berlinale jury president M. Night Shyamalan). With these films submitted, it’s hard to imagine many others gaining traction for the Best International Feature Film category. But the shortlist contains 15 films, and several countries have yet to announce their official submissions. That includes Italy, which could submit the quiet Cannes entry “The Eight Mountains,” if its secretive committee can get over the fact that co-directors Felix Van Groeningen (who was previously nominated for “Broken Circle Breakdown”) and Charlotte Vandermeersch are Belgian; other options for the country from its shortlist include Venice entries “The Hummingbird” and “L’immensita.” Another Cannes entry, “Holy Spider,” could be the Danish submission even though — like “Boy From Heaven” — it’s an Arabic-language movie that could never be made in the country where it takes place (set in Iran and shot in Jordan, Ali Abbassi’s thriller revolves around the true story of a serial killer who targeted prostitutes). These choices will all fall into place in the coming weeks, but official submissions aren’t the whole story. Missing AttachmentSeoJu Park Another potential late-breaking Venice contender for this category comes from Netflix, whose “Roma” campaign helped convince the Academy to change the name of this category from “Best Foreign Language Film” after Alfonso Cuarón spoke out against it. The streamer brought fellow Mexican filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths” to Venice and Telluride, where the filmmaker’s audacious look at an acclaimed documentarian returning to his native country received a mixed reception from critics. However, the movie (which the director trimmed by 22 minutes in recent weeks) found early fans at Telluride among filmmakers and actors such as Barry Jenkins and Cate Blanchett, which could bode well for it on the campaign trail. Iñárritu’s surrealist approach, which blends comedy with heavy existential themes, will continue to generate strong responses on the campaign trail — but Mexico has yet to determine its official submission for this category. If for some reason “Bardo” doesn’t make the cut there, though, expect Netflix to push this two-time Best Director winner in other categories. He won’t be the only one getting that boost. India snubbed the Tollywood action epic “RRR” despite its breakout success in the U.S., where it has been an arthouse hit and topped Netflix charts for weeks. (The country submitted “Chhello Show” instead.) However, the momentum for “RRR” continues in other categories as director S.S. Rajamouli makes the rounds in the U.S., and could even crack the Best Picture category. That possibility ensures that international cinema will be a part of this year’s Oscar season in ways that extend well beyond the limitations of one category with five slots. Contenders for the shortlist are listed in alphabetical order. No film will be deemed a frontrunner until we have seen it. Frontrunners: “Boy From Heaven” (Tarik Saleh, Sweden) “Close” (Lukas Dhont, Belgium) “Corsage” (Marie Kreutzer, Austria) “EO” (Jerzy Skolimowski, Poland) “Decision to Leave” (Park Chan-wook, Korea) Contenders: “Alcarràs” (Carla Simón, Spain) “Argentina, 1985” (Santiago Mitre, Argentina) “Bardo” (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Mexico) “The Eight Mountains” (Charlotte Vandermeersch and Felix Van Groenigen, Italy) “Girl Picture” (Alli Haapasalo, Finland) “A Piece Of Sky” (Michael Koch, Switzerland) “The Quiet Girl” (Colm Bairéad, Ireland)