The Oscars have come and gone, and now we can all hum and ha over what did and didn’t win until next year. Regardless of the winners or losers, what can be most frustrating about the Oscars is the choice of what gets nominated for each category. This year was no exception, with snubs such as the mediocre Philomena getting nominated for Best Picture instead of Inside Llewyn, Davis David O. Russell (American Hustle) getting nominated for Best Directing instead of Spike Jonze (Her), American Hustle getting nominated for Best Editing instead of Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lone Ranger getting a Best Visual Effects nomination instead of Pacific Rim.
However, what remains as the grossest snub this year is the lack of any nominations for last year’s Palm d’Or winner, Blue is the Warmest Colour. Despite how much it deserves nominations in other categories, it should have at least been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, which saw a slew of mediocre and good-but-not-great films getting nominated instead.
From Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen, we have the bluegrass romantic drama, The Broken Circle Breakdown. The story revolves around Didier Bontinck (Johan Heldenbergh), a banjo player and singer who plays in a bluegrass band and is obsessed with America, and Elise Vandevelde (Veerle Baetens), a tattoo artist who ends up joining the bluegrass band as a singer after she marries Didier. Elise becomes pregnant accidently, but and they have a daughter named Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse) who ends up having terminal cancer later in childhood. The film showcases all of these events by cleverly editing back and forth between Maybelle having her chemotherapy to Didier and Elise first meeting to what Maybelle was like before the treatments, and so on. The jumping around works coherently for most of the film, but it can get a bit disorienting near the end when it’s trying to tie all of the events together.
Their relationship gets more strained as death approaches their daughter, and Didier’s thoughts on the permanence of death begin to clash with Elise’s wanting for spiritual ideas to comfort her. This idea even carries over into their thoughts on tattoos, with Didier not wanting one because of it being permanent, and Elise, who has several of her lovers’ names tattooed on her, but then transforms them into something else so they can take on a different life. Out of all the nominations, it’s definitely one of the better films, especially with the great performances, but it is hampered by a script that feels convoluted near the end along with the dizzying editing technique.
Despite how interesting the Cambodian film The Missing Picture looks, I’m not sure how it got nominated. The film has had a very minimal release and won’t even be screening at regular theatres until after the Oscars, so it’s been impossible to view beforehand. The only explanation is that they must have released it in a strategic manner so that it meets the odd deadlines for the Oscars. In the film, director Rithy Plath uses clay figures and archived footage to recreate the atrocities committed by Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. It looks absolutely fascinating, but as of right now it is not available to the general public.
To contrast the mysterious film The Missing Picture getting nominated, we have the 2012 Danish film, The Hunt, which was likely the victim of the Oscars deadlines for foreign films last year. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg and starring Casino Royale villain Mads Mikkelsen, The Hunt is an endurance test for the empathetic. Lucas (Mikkelsen) is a lonely divorcee struggling to get custody of his son while having to take on a new teaching job at a kindergarten. One of the kids attending the kindergarten is Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), his best friend’s daughter. Lucas is seen walking Klara to school many times, since her parents fight very often, and overall the kids at the kindergarten really enjoy being around Lucas.
Things start to work out better for Lucas as the film progresses. He forms a relationship with one of the young women working at the kindergarten, he has lots of friends to go hunting and drinking with, and his son is planning to move in with him soon. One day, Klara decides to kiss Lucas on the mouth and slip a heart made out of beads and glue into his pocket. When confronted and told kissing is “for your mum and dad” and shown the heart, Klara becomes very upset with the rejection and tells the head of the kindergarten later that night that Lucas showed her his erect penis (a biological function she learns from her older brother flashing pornography in her face). The film is definitely hard to watch with the amount of brutality that Lucas has to go through. Mikkelsen’s acting is top notch, and his portrayal of the emotions that someone like him would be going through was outstanding. Overall, it’s a solid film, but it fails to be anything but a very sad story with good acting.
If you’ve watched any Italian cinema, you’ve likely seen films just like The Great Beauty by Paolo Sorrentino. It’s another film that wants to be just like Frederico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita by making a statement on the various upper class societies in Rome, but as one of the characters insists, “reheated rice is always tastier than fresh.” Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) is a very popular journalist living in Rome who has just turned 65. After the death of his first lover and another friend soon after, the idea of mortality hangs heavily on him as he reconsiders his lavish party life and starts to see some of the more beautiful parts of Rome.
All of Jep’s friends are rich arts enthusiasts who seem to be fairly miserable about their lives and Rome. When he’s not with them, he’s interviewing pretentious artists who do and say things even though they can’t explain them (like running headfirst into a wall and shouting “I don’t love you” as part of a play) as well as a self-righteous nun who has committed to a life of poverty. It is no wonder that Jep tells his friends that “Rome is distracting,” but this doesn’t just apply to the people. Sorrentino’s camera work is also very distracting. It almost never stands still for the whole movie and it can suddenly be sliding in a different direction from shot to shot, which makes you feel like you’re being jerked around. For a film poking fun at pretentious artists, The Great Beauty does a great job of not listening to its own advice. What you basically get is a more pretentious version of La Dolce Vita without the good cinematography.
The final nominee is a Palestinian film by Hany Abu-Assad called Omar. Omar (Adam Bakri), Amjad (Samer Bisharat), and Tarek (Iyad Hoorani) are Palestinian freedom fighters who get in over their heads as they trying to strike the Israeli army. Omar is captured and tricked into confessing, so now he has to work with the army as an informant or else he’ll be killed. Things get more complicated as the army figures out about his girlfriend, Nadja (Leem Lubany), whom he climbs over the Israeli West Bank barrier to see. Soon, his city spreads rumours that he is a traitor, and Omar has to make some very rash decisions to clear his name.
This film relies on prior knowledge about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, so it may be impenetrable to some. Regardless, the film uses the wall to its advantage as a metaphor for overcoming oppression and Omar’s will to fight. There are also some great chase sequences through the narrow alleyways of Omar’s neighbourhood, which are not accompanied by any music (nor is there music in any other parts of the film) so as to help immerse you in the panic of the chase. The film’s weak script holds it back a bit with an ending that is a bit cheesy, but it’s certainly not a bad film. Abu-Assad makes great use of barrier imagery, and the story will keep you on edge as Omar tries to set his life straight.
This leaves us with our snubbed film, Blue is the Warmest Colour. Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, it follows the journey of a young woman, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), as she discovers her own sexuality and grows as a woman thanks to the blue-haired woman, Emma (Léa Seydoux), whom she falls deeply in love with.
Adèle is going through her last year of high school when we are first introduced to her. As it is with many peer groups, she’s always being pressured by her friends to have sex with a certain guy even though she had recently walked by Emma on the street and had been fantasising about her. When she goes on a date with him, she discovers his startling lack of reading capabilities and his love for heavy metal which she hates. She goes ahead with the sex anyway, but it is clear that she does not enjoy it. It isn’t long before she meets Emma in a lesbian bar and begins hanging out with her, which causes her friends to alienate her and accuse her of lesbianism in a malicious manner.
The way in which different social classes perceive homosexuality is featured heavily in the film. Kechiche is clearly out to make a statement, as all of the homophobic characters either behave in generally nasty and disgusting manners like Adèle’s friends or are formal and uncultured simpletons like Adèle’s parents. The accepting characters seem to lead lives of artistic fulfillment where the goal in life is to be happy and not be working all the time at a job, which plays an interesting role in Adèle’s later life when she is stuck working as a teacher and not dedicating any time to writing like Emma tries to get her to do.
The story runs parallel to a famous, unfinished French novel by Pierre de Marivaux called The Life of Marianne, which they are seen covering in class at the beginning of the film. Many other tales and themes are exchanged in that class, including predestination, regret, and tragedy, which all work their way into Adèle’s life brilliantly. You won’t be surprised to hear that there is a big emphasis on the colour blue throughout the film. Its meaning changes throughout the film in a very coherent way, but it begins as a romantic and enticing colour (obviously associated to Emma’s hair) but later in the story takes on a much sadder tone as the colour leaves and returns in various ways. There’s even some fun and subtle uses of it, such as Adèle’s favourite artist being Pablo Picasso, who had a period of art called “the blue period.”
The one thing that’s probably going to polarise people over this film is the very gratuitous sex scenes. If you didn’t know that the actresses were wearing prosthetic vaginas, you’d swear that they were actually having sex with each other. It’s the most convincing piece of sensual filmmaking I’ve ever seen. By the end of the film, the detail in these scenes starts to feel justified because the audience begins to understand the passion between the characters and how that plays into the scenes later in the film.
Whether by ludicrously archaic deadline schedules or by an easily offendable academy of prunes, Blue is the Warmest Colour did not get nominated and it will forever be one of the worst snubs committed by the Oscars. No matter who wins Best Foreign Language Film, it will be a loss. Blue is the Warmest Colour is a daring, beautiful, and masterful piece of cinema and the best foreign film of 2013 by far.