Belgium, France, Denmark, Germany, Hungary…No, it’s not a European Union summit, but rather some of the usual suspects from the Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film category. They’re countries with solid industries who go for those familiar themes that make Oscar nominators tick (the Holocaust, the war in Afghanistan). But while all of these countries have unsurprisingly been announced as part of the Oscar’s coveted nine-film shortlist for the upcoming 88th Academy Awards, there are still a couple of films that break the mold in this year’s crop.
Most notably, the nominating committee has chosen Colombian director Ciro Guerra’s third feature, El abrazo de la serpiente (Embrace of the Serpent) as the only representative of Latin America to make the semi-final cut. The beautifully photographed black-and-white feature about cultural and environmental destruction in the Colombian Amazon has picked up a slew of awards since it premiered at Cannes earlier this year, competing neck-and-neck with other worthy adversaries like Pablo Larraín’s El Club. Larraín’s latest feature was recently nominated for a Golden Globe, but perhaps the Academy felt it was time to make way for new blood after his last feature, No, made the final cut back in 2013.
Also representing Latin America on the list in a very unexpected way is Ireland’s official entry, Viva, by Paddy Breathnach, which chronicles the life of a young Cuban drag queen, who is shaken by the return of his macho father after a 15-year stint in prison. The Spanish-language film was executive produced by Benicio del Toro and stars Cuban A-Lister Jorge Perugorría as the boy’s ex-con father.
After further review by specially invited committees in New York, Los Angeles, and London, the final, five-film cut will be announced on January 14, 2016 along with the other Academy Award nominations. With so many phenomenal films to come out of Latin America this year, it must have been difficult for the Phase I committee to settle on El abrazo, but maybe if they didn’t give so much preference to European cinema, they could even make room for a few more.