The deadline is here and close to 80 films have been submitted to compete for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. From that long roster of films (which include a Verhoeven/Huppert flick, a German father/daughter comedy, a Swiss animated film and a doc on the refugee crisis), a special committee will whittle down the number to 9, before nominations for the 89th edition of the Oscars are announced on January 24, 2017.
Latin America, which last year was repped by Ciro Guerra’s masterful Embrace of the Serpent, looks to add its share of worthy contenders to this year’s list. One expected title you won’t find, though, is Kleber Mendonça Filho‘s Aquarius. The Sonia Braga-film, which debuted at Cannes, was thought by many to be an early favorite given the Brazilian star’s turn and the film’s timely message. But the filmmakers’ protests at the Croisette against the current political crisis at home led to the film being sidelined by the country’s committee.
After several other directors abstained from submitting their own films, Brazil chose David Schurmann’s Pequeno segredo. That uplifting, globe-trotting tale hopes to earn a coveted spot in the sole Oscar category designed to showcase global cinema. Check out the fourteen films submitted by the region, which included a pair of Gael García Bernal flicks, a Cuban AIDS drama, and the first Venezuelan film to win the Golden Lion at Venice, down below.
El ciudadano ilustre
Submitted by Argentina
A renowned Argentinean writer—a Nobel Prize winner no less!—gets an invitation to return to his small hometown to receive that year’s “Distinguished Citizen” award. The writer, who has lived abroad for the past few decades yet whose work is all about the small town life he left behind, hasn’t been home since he was a teenager. The homecoming becomes, in Duprat and Cohn’s dark dramedy, a clash of fiction and reality, of parochialism and cosmopolitanism, where it slowly dawns on the writer that everything back home is not as he left nor as he continued to imagine it. Oscar Martínez won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor for his performance as the literary luminary stranded in a farcical world of his own making.
Submitted by Cuba
Set in 1988 in Cuba, the film focuses on the AIDS centers that the government had set up across the island where HIV patients were shipped to under military rule. The title refers to the “companions,” people serving prison sentences who function as wardens to the patients, keeping an eye on them on behalf of the establishment. That’s how Horacio Romero (played by Latin Grammy winner Yotuel Romero), a Cuban boxing champion, who finds himself striking up an unlikely friendship with his assigned patient, Daniel.
Submitted by Bolivia
Julia Vargas Weise’s third feature is an ecologically and politically-minded thriller that follows Federica. Only Federica is not a character: she’s an old steam train that’s recruited to remove a number crates that have been discovered and which might contain possibly toxic minerals within them. Led by the type of farcical if threatening stock characters of Latin American law enforcement, the newly dubbed “Death Train” winds its way through the Bolivian altiplano setting off a number of collisions between the state, police, and townspeople around the country.
Submitted by Brazil
Based on the book by the same name (which was written by director David Schurmann’s mother), Pequeno segredo mines the family’s own history, in particular the story of Kat, whom Schurmann’s parents adopted when she was a little girl. The reason why Kat found herself with no parents at such a young age, as well as the life-affirming tale that her adoptive mother then spun in her own book, is perhaps best not spoiled. Connecting the disparate but interconnected lives of women across the world, Schurmann’s big-hearted project is designed to tug at your heartstrings and get you to reach for that hankie.
Submitted by Chile
Those looking for a straight-up biopic of famed Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, have come to the wrong film. In its place, Pablo Larraín has crafted a meta-poetic treatise on fiction and politics. Ostensibly, we’re being told the story (in first person voiceover narration) of how police officer Óscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal) is trying to capture Neruda (Luis Gnecco), now a wanted man by the state. But with a dreamlike, fragmented shooting style that disorients you from line to line, Larraín is as interested in evoking Neruda’s artistry as he is in crafting a thrilling chase through late ’40s Chilean landscapes.
Submitted by Colombia
Shedding light on the child soldier experience, Alias Maria puts audiences smack in the middle of Colombia’s armed conflict. Young Maria (Karen Torres), a recruit for the guerrillas fighting in the middle of the jungle, is tasked with taking a newborn child to a nearby town. It’s a shrieking reminder of the perils of pregnancy during war—all the barely pubescent girl soldiers are freely used for sex but forbidden from carrying a child to term, a plot nugget that will surely clue you into what awaits Maria herself. Informed by countless interviews with women and children from the very regions the film depicts, and awash in the greens and browns of the conflict’s landscape, Rugeles’ film plays like a socially conscious arthouse flick about motherhood and war.
Submitted by Costa Rica
What better way to try and rekindle a waning relationship than a road trip? Better to be heading to the beach than to continue yelling at each other in front of a couple’s counselor. That’s precisely the set up of Hernan Jimenez’s sunny Entonces nosotros which obviously mines a relationship in crisis once Diego and Sofía hit the road. On the way they meet one of Sofía’s old friends, Malena, who’s outspoken and willing to cut through the tension between them, making what was supposed to be a peaceful getaway into an all out (and hilarious) romantic brawl.
Flor de azúcar
Submitted by Dominican Republic
Set in the late 1940s and showcasing the gorgeous Caribbean landscapes of the Dominican Republic, Flor de azúcar is set against the backdrop of Trujillo’s violent regime. Samuel, a young farmer finds himself needing to flee the happy life he led with his wife and his children when a confrontation with a group of the state’s armed militia results in a death. He finds refuge in a fishing island where a young widow offers him a new lease on life. But as a man of principle, it’s not long until Samuel decides to return home and face the consequences of his actions in this sweeping if small-scale historical epic.
Sin muertos no hay carnaval
Submitted by Ecuador
Looking at the social tensions in Guayaquil, Sebastián Cordero crafts this unflinching drama about the conflict between a wealthy young man and the 250 families who are squatting in the territory he’s just inherited from his father. Aiming for a sleek thriller aesthetic rooted in the broken down neighborhoods of Guayaquil, Cordero’s film reveals the violence and corruption that unfortunately echoes what the film’s English title promises us: “Such is the life in the Tropics.”
Submitted by Mexico
Tackling the ever timely issue of immigration, the younger Cuarón’s Desierto takes that one crossing-the-border plot line from Babel, adds in a ruthless minuteman (Watchmen‘s Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and for good measure, gives us Gael García Bernal in full-on survival mode. When a group of Mexicans try to cross over into the United States, they are forced to face a rifle-toting vigilante who’s intent on putting a bullet in them before they get any further along the border.
Submitted by Panama
When his father, a famed boxer, is sentenced to jail, Andres’s family decide that it’s best to ship off the young boy to Washington where he’ll have a chance to have a better life. But ten years later, when he returns to Panama to mourn his grandfather, Andres’s life (and his relationship with his father, family, and childhood sweetheart) will upend everything he had established for himself abroad. Named after a fictional run-down neighborhood in Panama City that all but tells you to get out while you can, Salsipuedes is at once a celebration of the resilience of Panamanians and an indictment of the status quo which keeps people in lower class barrios from the presumed economic boon the country so exults.
Videofilia (y otros síndromes virales)
Submitted by Peru
Fernández’s film is a psychedelic and hallucinogenic trip into the world of a group of young men and women in the suburbs of Lima. When Luz meets Junior online, she finds someone she can connect with. Junior, who’s obsessed with Mayan prophecies of the end of the world and online porn, eventually meets up with Luz in person kicking off a series of dystopian sequences that suggest the world as we see it may soon be coming to an end. The film mirrors the increasingly warped vision of the world through Luz and Junior’s eyes, with its pixelated and video-based visuals, offering the viewer a chance to experience this apocalyptic image of the modern world.
Migas de pan
Submitted by Uruguay
Starring Cecilia Roth, Migas de pan is a story about grappling with the past. Liliana (Roth) is preparing a suit alongside many other women who, between 1973 and 1985, were kidnapped and tortured for their dissident political views. Shuttling between the horrific ordeal she endured as a young woman fighting the regime in Uruguay and the hard choices she’s forced to make in the present as she seeks justice, Manane Rodriguez’s chilling flick sheds light on the resilience of women like Liliana and the burden they carry long after the country’s military rule was toppled.
Submitted by Venezuela
The winner of the Golden Lion at the 2015 Venice Film Festival, Vigas’ Caracas-set film follows the unlikely relationship between Armando, an older man and Elder, a malandro from the streets. One lured by youth, the other by money, the two men form a tender if fragile couple that will force them both to grapple with the world they live from day to day.