Five Years of Best Foreign Films in the Oscars: A Comparative Review

By Dimple Soriano Onia Murphy (All rights reserved)

Used with permission for the “Worldwide Petition to Send ‘Thy Womb’ to the 2014 Oscars”

La Aunor’s THY WOMB is locking horns with lobbyists, artists and public support to SEND THY WOMB TO THE OSCARS in 2014.

What configures its winning forms based on the Best Foreign Language Films adjudged by the OSCARS in the last five years- 2008 (DEPARTURE- Japanese), 2009 (The Secret in Their Eyes- Spanish), 2010 (IN A BETTER WORLD-Danish/Swedish), 2011 (A Separation Persian-Iran), and 2012 (AMOUR- French)?

The 5-year timetable reference steers to dissect the storyline, theme, character development, and cultural uniqueness (one set criterion). This pirouettes on a salient winning streak personally identified and culled from the entries on which the conclusion lays out specks for THY WOMB’s probable pull on the cuffs for a win.

DEPARTURES (2008-Japanese subtitled) takes off from an encoffiner’s story (mortician -“embalsamador”) whose work pivots on securing the dead bodies to the art of Japanese ritual preparing the dead for cremation. The opening scene ensnares a viewer’s intent but as the story unfolds it veers comic. Ritual scenes (glad that it was subtitled) hit the affect terribly. The sensory images churn so graphic. I wished for the movie to get done as fast as it could. The film strikes a winning hit- not a second rate plot American film producers normally take on. If they do, it reels like a Frankenstein movie or a morbid detective story haunting killers with the morgue as a possible backdrop. On hand is a cultural ritual distinctly Japanese which readily swept the Oscars.

THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2009 – Spanish/Subtitled) treats a male lead character hounded by an unsolved crime – a female dies from a sexual assault. It has the American movie touch of a mystery-murder overlapping “stream of consciousness” effect. The lead character entraps the audience in a disposition he alone replenishes. It succeeds in playing a maze til the end as reverberating flashbacks of the crime keeps on. Worth noting is the story weaves in the mystery solver’s intents fused by solo thought intrusions as he wallows through the fragments of the heinous offense. Despite the subplots, he curtseys the audience’s attention all throughout. Single point of story telling engrossed in a fast paced flashback scenes typical of the American mystery movies is well telling of a win.

IN A BETTER WORLD (2010-Danish/Swedish/ENGLISH) esteems destruction two folds. The scene starts in Sudan where a doctor is on a medical mission for the villagers caught in the midst of militia groups fighting . While he treats the villagers overseas, he leaves behind a family struggling to be whole despite the separation (divorce). Plot brings into play another boy character as a friend to his son that deduces the situational exposition – how a child comes to terms with his fight (school bullies) and the elementary defense to get back. Through buddy system, getting back quantifies destruction so intense for a viewer to ever imagine. for a young boy shaping it doubles the disbelief. The clear presentation of an adult militia fight is no better than the fight this two kids (in a better world) has schemed. The contrasting world after all has all the best toys (TOYS FOR THE BOYS). The movie educes a strong irony, -The Better World confers to the more exploratory friend defender a spin with explosives for revenge, while the whole village of kids thousands of miles away are content playing with just one soccer ball. Winning point- it elicits a well-carved contrast of both worlds so effective that no one leaves the theater with lost memories of destruction possible for kids growing up. The irony drabs as the director anoints a shield – in the process, anyone could be hurt. Skew in moralizing if you please.

A SEPARATION (2011- Persian-Iran) a family is all packed to go overseas but the husband backs off to attend to the needs of his Alzheimer’s stricken father. The conflict trickles in as the wife files for a divorce and child custody. However the child ascertains whom among her parents she finally ends up living with. While the whole plot snips for the resolution, the characters embroils in the caring process not without afflictions. Testing truths and lies, imploring the Quran as the court resolves intra- inter- family clashes triggered by limitations and inconsistencies in work and job roles. The movie traces IRAN couple of years post liberation from an autocratic rule. In the setting, women are now free to drive, study for a career and engage in a job. The caregiver chores for the father is behestly entrusted to a woman via personal friends Employed, she herself figures in a subplot- taking the job despite being pregnant and not telling the husband. The movie puts to light women struggling to live western ways and thoughts. It too caps cultural snippets that reticulate what they can and cannot. One strong point the movie shouts strong is “how can a woman provide daily personal care to a sick male client when culture and laws dictate they cannot see a man’s private parts except their husbands?” The strength of laws and the actions by which they are ruled by besides the Quran is the court. It resolves problems- menial to full-blown. Every case lifted to it warrants money or a bond. This film does not try to work on a dramatic dilemma, nor character delusions, neither on a strong struggle to merit a very engulfing drama. It precipes on a culture, drips ways ,an adapts to the influences that liberation brings. The movie reality piece is on its characters -a pervading layman’s quests, adducting to a western thought but religious and cultural ways somehow set them back. It is on this wave that the movie graduates as an eyepiece to a resuming liberation, which the characters hold til the end. The story molds the daughter weighing on who to live with which can never be left for a loud speak of a choice (the movie highly speaks of). The beginning of the plot, the family contemplates on living overseas, this per se foretells a liberation and the acts of it as a strong standing and a sweep enough for the OSCARS.

AMOUR (2012-French with an Austrian Director) Had it not been for the setting, it can pass for an American movie with a high twist. It focuses on the aging and end of life process with so many options left for the taking. the storyline brings an aged couple in their 80s. One day, at breakfast the husband finds the wife unresponsive to verbal cues. As the husband prompts for help , the woman speaks. A medical check up reveals a clogged artery. The surgical option leaves the woman paralyzed on one side, wife prods the husband not to take her to the hospital anymore. He then takes on her care. What follows are dramatic moments of physical, emotional self esteem deteriorating instantly as the characters cope with the toll that dependency brings. The wife succumbs to a world where pity is a vice and help is an intrusion. their daughter busy with her own affairs in England desires to get involve by seeking healthcare placement. Father questions her offer as no better than what he is ready to do for the wife. As the wife depreciates into end of life, the husband embraces and lives with wife’s suffering daily. the story shifts from one forthright character to a forlorn partner paltry to the pains she has to suffer. He narrates how she shifts from a cognitive to one distant in their conversations. As the wife groans in pain, he tells her a story sometime when he was young and cautions her to be quiet as he does the telling. She calms down in the process. Ends his story. The viewers backtrack a suspended cathartic empathy as he strangles the wife with a pillow showing no remorse all through out. He dresses her dead body, seals the door to her room. He writes letters and lays in his bed in the succeeding scenes. One pathetic scene rings a closure -he hears the wife calls for him, he arises from bed frail and imbalanced (hallucinating?) they leave their flat. the viewers at this point pick up the opening scene when the fire brigade forces the main door open and the wife’s sealed door. What comes on with a big thud is the morality of euthanasia (if you can call the husband’s act) to encapsulate the suffering. But the American viewers will probably offer options to the couple. It was clear at one point the husband sought help from a caregiver which he readily drops as he discovered abuse. The wife’s self retreat and seclusion must have triggered him too not to weigh other options. Or the movie could be slapping the American viewers with a reality that nursing homes are not the place for the oldies – the family has to take on for the aging parents. This turns the culture of care institutions as depositories for aging and sick relatives a sound exposition in the movie. The big hole however is why were palliative care and pain management never considered as the wife was in chronic pain and inevitably deteriorating. Most American viewers will find the movie hard to elicit a cathartic effect. The options could have been played with the movie (even with the lead character’s refusal) to state the reality of medical choices, which the doctor could have readily prescribed. Nevertheless it gets the judges’ nod. The setting becomes insignificant (most shots are in the house rooms) as the viewers are engrossed in characters shaping, The director stirs in seclusion and the emotions that go with it. There is the literary use of symbols in the note writing, which the husband’s mother asked him to (draw stars when you didn’t like summer camp and flowers if you do- of course he drew stars as the pudding he so abhor were constantly served in the camp). In the next scene the now stoic husband buys flowers, trims and strews them on his wife’s corpse. Apparently, he does like her death. the symbolism all the more drives away empathy as he becomes a fallen character not worthy of sympathy. As he writes, (happy with the flowers) a dove strays in twice (its symbol has been used for life everlasting, resurrection ,peace purity). Twice he strangles the stray doves. The device i get to mean the wife’s letting him to breath life despite the loss but shuts his mind to it as he chose to end the two chances he was offered. the viewers the films asks – natural death with suffering or euthanasia, take your pick.

And how will the Philippines’ THY WOMB pit in the derby?

Looking at the storyline, characterization, symbolic technique, theme and cultural uniqueness, Brillante Mendoza’s artistic craft has strong grounds for the Oscars. Some critics deplore the shady night scenes in our entry but the same flaw is seen with the dusty, blurry opening scene of DEPARTURE and even in some room scenes in AMOUR.

It is criticized for its slow pacing as the scenes shift from boat paddling, getting in and off the rides and the so many pregnant pauses in the dialogue’s continuity, but the same can be deduced from the two movies and IN A BETTER WORLD. There were tinges of loose ends, which our director falls short of (the ending that doesn’t show enough resolution as there is no “restored order sort of” and fails to suggest a valid fate for La Aunor, the wife) which is critical in the movie. However, it is in its simplicity, uniqueness in the Badjao culture and the much-acclaimed solo role delivery of its lead where the movie builds strength on.

A SEPARATION the closest study of the Muslim culture (similar to THY WOMB’s premise- but it fails to speed up pure and plain intent of uniqueness), echoes a deliberate take on the westernization of the family core structure, somehow in so telling, it nails calloused by its tradition and laws. Although very strong in its convictions, it cannot vie for the simplicity of the Badjaos sailing unperturbed by the social political milieu, which the movie presents in silence. DEPARTURE touches on a distinct Japanese culture of reverence for the dead as it presents a ritual so solemn and respectful. La Aunor’s has the wedding Scene and the sea festivities in all its pageantry a feast so unique that it warrants no comparison.

While the symbols effectively used in DEPARTURE (the jellyfish to mean the murky job the lead will have to take to survive, the stones to mean rough or smooth life statuses played by the son and the father, and the use of the pigeon, flowers and stars in AMOUR are strong well formed allegories adopted in the representative movies, our obra maestra paddles strong as well. Mendoza played with mat weaving to show wait, hope and resolution, a skillful canvass take of landscape and portrait like images of the sea with the sky above the lead stars, the cloud shaded full moon propel a very good cinematography the Oscars will not miss. While the other winning entries built a character among a couple, Nora shaped a character all on her own by a subdued acting built up through a mastery of facial muscle theatrics coupled with a motivational projected thespian forte finish needing no lengthy dialogue to deliver.

While rest of the movies take on a theme most American directors have explored on, none of Thy Womb’s wife sacrifice (husband in the same predicament in AMOUR alienates himself as he becomes stoic to death) can elicit enough audience sympathy as Shaleha parts with her husband into hands of the new wife. Some loose ends in the presentation techniques cannot be ignored in the winning samples. On this precept perhaps, it is in that same weakness that will trigger the jurors to look for something else in our entry – acting, cinematography and simple/ unique storyline that treat the universality of love, and sacrifice caught in a tradition so distinctly Pinoy. THY WOMB has an agenda – lull the Oscars’ merits in a unique order!

aomurphy-USA all rights reserved. a product of 1 -1/2 overnight toil