Ever heard of the term “the Rashomon effect?” It means when various people from different vantage points describe an event differently, or provide different information. It’s named after this film. In more ways than coining journalism terms, Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece has been hugely influential. The narrative device of multiple perspectives has been used by from Pulp Fiction to Courage Under Fire to Star Trek: The Next Generation. In this film, it’s a rape and murder told by four suspects, each revealing something different.
When Rashomon won Best Foreign-language Film it was the first non-European film to win. Although, until 1956 there was no voting on this award – just a singular selection of a foreign-language title from a committee – we think that even the Academy wouldn’t have messed this up if they voted on it as an entire group.
Federico Fellini’s traveling circus film was the first victor in a competitive field for the foreign-language film Oscar – winning, as we know it now, as the best of five nominees. La Strada is also the first of four films directed by the great Fellini to win this category. However, despite being heralded as one of the all-time great filmmakers, and despite racking up twelve directing and screenwriting nominations throughout his career, Fellini never won a competitive Oscar of his own. La Strada, 8 1/2, Nights of Cabiria, and Amarcord were “won” by Italy and much like other greats such as Hitchcock, Kubrick and Welles, Fellini would have to settle for winning a lifetime achievement award for his mantle.
Why did I choose this peculiar, playful treasure as important in the annals of Oscar? Because the foreign-language category is where quaint oddballs such as this film can win an award. Perversely, this film probably mocks most of those that voted for it: dwellers of modern houses who spend extravagantly on neighborhood one-upmanship by way of purchasing modern adornments that have no function.
Costa-Gavras’ film was the first to be nominated in both the Best Foreign-Language Film category and the Best Picture category. Z is a thrilling reenactment of a Greek political assassination and cover-up. It was submitted to represent Algeria, which makes it the first African film to win the award. It also announced the arrival of a type of film that would become a worldwide benchmark of the 1970s: paranoia, fear of government, cover-up and a downbeat ending.
Here’s another French polemic concoction. Charm wraps its class arsenic up in dreams, and other bizarre circumstances, that continually get in the way of a group of upper-crust individuals who are trying to meet for dinner. The civilized and refined have dinner parties, but director Luis Bunuel’s favorite character is, fittingly, not his civilians, but his cockroaches.
This under-seen film is the first win from an African that is about an African country. Granted it’s the film debut of a French master (Jean-Jacques Annaud, later the director of The City of Lost Children and Amelie) and largely concerns the colonial French fighting colonial Germans in World-War-I-era Ivory Coast. But – like most things the Academy loves in this category – it does ridicule elitist French society.
Ingmar Bergman – Swedish wrangler of all things internalized and suffocated by religion – directed three films that won the Best Foreign-Language Film. But, like many directors who remained in their native language, despite nine individual nominations, Bergman only won a career achievement award. His memorial award, however, came in 1971, when he still had a decade of films in him. And like his religious imagery, he’d continue dividing critics and audiences long after that lifetime laurel. Fanny and Alexander was his final theatrical film (with two different cuts, one 188 minutes and one 312, which is one of the longest films of all time) and won the most Academy Awards by a foreign-language film at that time: four (now tied by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).
Pedro Almodovar is a beloved director who seems to play soap opera Twister: right hand: prostitute! left foot: nun! right foot: bullfighter! right hand: ANYWHERE!!! After vacillating between wacky and steamy, Almodovar dropped the sort of film that could be respected by all with All About My Mother. Almodovar was foreign film to so many people that, due to the one film per country Oscar rule, after this win, Spain decided to submit films from other Spanish directors here forward. Other Spaniards needed the sort of Oscar push that Pedro no longer needed. In fact, with his next film, Talk to Her, Almodovar won the only screenwriting award that’s been given to a foreign-language film.
The highest grossing foreign-language film of all time, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was more than a rousing martial arts tale: as a co-production between companies based in Taiwan, China and the United States it represents a game-changer of international storytelling and financing that is now more common than ever. Films are not only gunning for four-quadrants (male and female, above and under 25) but all six habitable continents.
While the aforementioned Farhadi didn’t get The Past in the field this year, he did win this category previously with A Separation, a film that numerous filmy-folks I know (including CraveOnline’s very own film editor, William Bibbiani) list as one of the best films they’ve seen in the past decade. Also if you made it to the end of the slideshow, but you still haven’t seen The Past: go! It’s expanding theaters today! It might not have been nominated, but it’s still one of the best films of the year. The Academy rarely gets things right, so why should you trust their down-to-five foreign-film selections?