The shortlist of 15 films to vie for a Best International Feature Film Oscar nomination is set to be announced Wednesday. In all, films from 92 countries are eligible this year, and as we regularly see, they offer up an embarrassment of riches. For the first time in a while, however, there doesn’t appear to be a hands-down clear frontrunner.
Below, we take a closer look at the potential candidates for the early cut. They include prizewinners from Berlin to Cannes to Venice and myriad other festivals.
Deadline, through its various Contenders events as well as separate interviews, has spoken with filmmakers behind many of the entries while each of the titles on the main list below has been reviewed by Deadline’s critics as we continue to grow our focus on international films.
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The round-up here takes slightly different form from years past, providing a snapshot before we go deeper as awards season rolls along with links to our reviews.
N.B: This list is in alphabetical order.
ALCARRÀS (Spain), dir: Carla Simon; U.S. Distributor: Mubi
What it’s about: The Solé family has spent every summer picking peaches from their orchard in the titular Catalonian village. But this year’s crop could be their last as new plans for the land include cutting down the trees and installing solar panels, which causes a rift within the large, tightknit family.
Deadline’s take: “Radiant… That (Simon) has created such complex, conflicted characters and won such marvelous performances from amateurs is a testament to her powers of empathy.”
Director’s comment: “My desire was to make a film about a big family and to express cinematically what it means to be part of a big family.”
Key Awards/Festivals: Golden Bear (Berlin), AFI Fest selection
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (Germany), dir: Edward Berger; U.S. Distributor: Netflix
What it’s about: An adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s world-renowned bestseller, the film follows Paul, who experiences first-hand how the initial euphoria of war turns into desperation and fear as soldiers fight for their lives and each other in the trenches.
Deadline’s take: “It is hard to try to remake a film that is considered a classic, much less trying to do a new take on something that won Best Picture. Berger and his co-writers, Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell, and his crack team of artisans should be congratulated for making the attempt, and one that actually turns out to be a smart move.”
Director comment: “We wanted to make it intimate by staying very close to the characters and to what they’re feeling. So, actually, in all of our decisions — camera, music, production design, costumes, props or whatever — it felt important to [reflect] what Paul or whoever’s in the frame is feeling at that very moment. In that sense, I would call it maybe an intimate portrait of these young men.”
Key Awards/Festivals: Make Up & Hair, Visual Effects (European Film Awards); Top Five International Films, Best Adapted Screenplay (National Board of Review); Toronto selection, Golden Globe Nomination – Best Film Non-English Language
ARGENTINA, 1985 (Argentina), dir: Santiago Mitre; U.S. Distributor: Amazon Prime
What it’s about: The story of Argentinian lawyers Julio Strassera and Luis Moreno Ocampo, who bravely prosecuted members of the country’s former bloody military dictatorship.
Deadline’s take: “What distinguishes this film from other political sagas is the deftness with which Mitre and his co-writer Mariano Llinas have woven together the warp of political struggle with the weft of a human one.”
Director comment: “This was a fundamental time during the democratic reconstruction in Argentina… It took a lot of courage, especially from the President back then. Democracy had only been established for one year, so it was very fragile.”
Key Awards/Festivals: Top Five International Films, Freedom of Expression Award (National Board of Review); Best Film (San Sebastián); FIPRESCI (Venice), Golden Globe nomination – Best Film Non-English Language
BARDO, FALSE CHRONICLE OF A HANDFUL OF TRUTHS (Mexico), dir: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu; U.S. Distributor: Netflix
What it’s about: After receiving a prestigious award for his work in journalism and documentary filmmaking, Silverio suddenly is compelled to re-examine his Mexican roots. Upon arrival, he contends with embarrassing memories from the past and an existential crisis.
Deadline’s take: “A a dazzling work, one that pointedly lays out the professional pressures, domestic turmoil and sizable ego issues that come with being the center of so many people’s lives.”
Director comment: “There is a line that film is a dream, being directed. For me, this film was me, building a dream that was personal, meaningful, super complicated technically, incredibly controlled. I needed that because when you try to relate your dream, you remember the details and they have important meaning and have to be precise.”
Key Awards/Festivals: FIPRESCI, Silver Frog (Cameraimage), UNIMED Award (Venice), Telluride selection, AFI Fest selection
THE BLUE CAFTAN (Morocco), dir: Maryam Touzani; U.S. Distributor: Strand Releasing
What it’s about: A husband and wife run a handmade caftan shop in one of Morocco’s oldest medinas while their marriage hides a secret that neither wants to confront until a young male assistant enters their lives.
Deadline’s take: “A poignant story of a closeted man who has made his marriage work against the odds, and who may be facing a new chapter.”
Key Awards/Festivals: FIPRESCI (Cannes – Un Certain Regard), Jury Prize (Marrakech), Toronto selection
CAIRO CONSPIRACY (Sweden), dir: Tarik Saleh; U.S. Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
What it’s about: Adam, the son of a fisherman is offered the ultimate privilege to study at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the epicenter of power of Sunni Islam. Shortly after his arrival in the Egyptian capital, the university’s highest-ranking religious leader dies suddenly, and Adam soon becomes a pawn in a ruthless struggle between Egypt’s religious and political elite.
Deadline’s take: “Shows a rare level of philosophical engagement with the subject, something that pays off beautifully in its articulate and nuanced last act.”
Director comment: “This film, at its core, is about the price of an education, or the cost of an education. The cost of knowledge, which in my opinion, is innocence.”
Key Awards/Festivals: Best Screenplay (Cannes)
CLOSE (Belgium), dir: Lukas Dhont; U.S. Distributor: A24
What it’s about: The friendship of two 13-year-old boys, Leo and Remi, the latter of which commits suicide. Leo is convinced he’s to blame. Struggling to understand what has happened, he approaches Sophie, Rémi’s mother.
Deadline’s take: “One of the strongest films to premiere in this year’s (Cannes) Competition.”
Director comment: “This film came from a deeply personal place — for a long time I thought that my fragility was my weakness. My tenderness was my weakness. Because in this world, from a very young age, we [teach] young boys to fear tenderness and to fear vulnerability, and I think understanding the universality of that was important for me in making this film.”
Key Awards/Festivals: Grand Prix (Cannes), NBR Award (National Board of Review), Best Film (Sydney), Telluride selection, AFI Fest selection, Golden Globe nomination – Best Film Non-English Language
CORSAGE (Austria), dir: Marie Kreutzer; U.S. Distributor: IFC Films
What it’s about: Based on the true story of a year in the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria. On Christmas Eve 1877, Elisabeth — who was known for her great beauty — suddenly faced from society and began to hide by wearing veils, when she turned 40 and was officially deemed an old woman.
Deadline’s take: “Corsage is a period film that, along with telling a story, inquires into the nature and meaning of period films. It is clever, somewhat didactic, as austere in its intentions as it is lush in execution.”
Director comment: “I thought this could be a good story about women at that time but still today, still being raised and trained to please in order to be loved.”
Key Awards/Festivals: Best Performance (Cannes – Un Certain Regard), Actress (European Film Awards ), Best Film (London), Mirada Award Special Mention (San Sebastián), Toronto selection, Independent Spirit Awards Nomination – Best International Film
DECISION TO LEAVE (Korea), dir: Park Chan-wook; U.S. Distributor: Mubi
What it’s about: Centers on a detective investigating a man’s death in the mountains, who meets the dead man’s mysterious wife in the course of his dogged criminal probe.
Deadline’s take: “There is a sensuality in every move, and every glance. Park even manages to fill a police interrogation with sex appeal.”
Director’s comment: “I believe our lives are, likewise filled with mysteries, but in our own lives there’s no guarantee that these mysteries will be resolved. So seeing a detective who has the capacity to solve such mysteries gives us hope.”
Key Awards/Festivals: Best International Film (Boston Society of Film Critics); Best Director (Cannes); Best Foreign Language Film, Cinematography (Chicago Film Critics Association); Top Five International Films (National Board of Review); Toronto selection; Golden Globe nomination – Best Film Non-English Language
EO (Poland), dir: Jerzy Skolimowski; U.S. Distributor: Sideshow/Janus Films
What it’s about: A vision of modern Europe seen through the eyes of a donkey on a stoic journey through a world where disaster and despair alternate with unexpected bliss.
Deadline’s take: “An exemplary, fresh and radiant piece of work from an 84-year-old director who has not lost his energy or own way of seeing things.”
Director’s comment: “An animal character can move an audience much deeper and somehow stronger than any human character who would be performing… An animal doesn’t know the act, doesn’t know that they are acting. They are just natural they are being there.”
Key Awards/Festivals: Jury Prize (Cannes); Original Score (European Film Awards); Best Film Not in the English Language, Cinematography (Los Angeles Film Critics Association); Top Five International Films (National Board of Review); Best International Film (New York Film Critics Circle), AFI Fest selection
GIRL PICTURE (Finland), dir: Alli Haapasalo; U.S. Distributor: Strand Releasing
What it’s about: A trio of teen girls navigates relationships in contemporary Helsinki. On three consecutive Fridays two of them experience the Earth-moving effects of falling in love, while the third goes on a quest to find something she’s never before experienced: pleasure.
Deadline’s take: “An engaging portrait of young women that’s as refreshing as it is entertaining.”
Key Awards/Festivals: Audience Award, World Cinema – Dramatic (Sundance)
HOLY SPIDER, (Denmark), dir: Ali Abbasi; U.S. Distributor: Utopia
What it’s about: Female journalist Rahimi travels to the Iranian holy city of Mashhad to investigate a serial killer targeting sex workers. As she draws closer to exposing his crimes, the opportunity for justice grows harder to attain when the murderer is embraced by many as a hero.
Deadline’s take: “Thunderously damning… crackles and glistens with anger.”
Director’s comment: “It’s not a serial killer movie, it’s about a serial killer society.”
Key Awards/Festivals: Best Actress (Cannes), Best Film (Stockholm), Best Director (Fantastic Fest), Telluride & Toronto
JOYLAND (Pakistan), dir: Saim Sadiq
What it’s about: Follows a patriarchal family as they yearn for the birth of a baby boy to continue the family line, while their youngest son secretly joins an erotic dance theater and falls for a trans woman.
Deadline’s take: “A thoughtful, well performed and engrossing drama set in a culture that’s shifting, and not always with ease.”
Director comment: “I wanted to talk about patriarchy and I wanted to talk about sexuality and gender in relation to myself and my family and my surroundings and my city… I never looked at it as ‘Oh it is such a bold or courageous film.’ I made the film that I wanted to make.”
Key Awards/Festivals: Directors to Watch (Palm Springs); Best Screenplay (Athens); Jury Prize, Queer Palme (Cannes – Un Certain Regard); Sutherland Award – Honorable Mention (London), AFI & Toronto selection, Independent Spirit Awards nomination – Best International Film
KLONDIKE (Ukraine), dir: Maryna Er Gorbach
What it’s about: A Ukrainian couple on the cusp of parenthood sees their lives turned upside down by the rise of the Russia-backed separatist movement in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region.
Deadline’s take: “Compelling in its very conviction. It speaks to the integrity of a filmmaker reaching for a deeper truth through fiction – or a fictionalized reality, more accurately, given that an early title page tells us it is based on a real story.”
Director’s comment: “In my mind it was a good story to start talking about what was happening in the context of world security and safety.”
Key Awards/Festivals: Directing – World Cinema (Sundance), Best Film (Thessaloniki), Prize of the Ecumenical Jury (Berlin), Best Director
NARCOSIS (Netherlands), dir: Martijn de Jong
What it’s about: The film mixes clairvoyance, deep sea diving and grief as a young family is hit by a tragedy and deals with it in a unique way.
Deadline’s take: “The great Thekla Reuten has such a formidable ability to convey a complexity of emotions that she can convince us of anything.”
Director comment: “It intrigued us why do professional divers want to go in there and do this and risk their lives and leave their people behind?”
Key Awards/Festivals: Best Leading Role, Cinematography, Costume Design (Nederlands); Best Film (Dutch Film Critics); Audience Award (Thessaloniki)
NOSTALGIA (Italy), dir: Mario Martone; U.S. Distributor: Breaking Glass Pictures
What it’s about: Middle-aged Felice Lasco returns to a bustling Naples after having lived in Egypt for 40 years. Once back, he’s caught up in memories of a distant life spent in his hometown, as his criminal youth slowly catches up with him.
Deadline’s take: “A densely displayed real-life setting and a lack of cliched old-school conventions.”
Director comment: “Naples is a complicated town. For me, this was a trip into a part of my city, I didn’t know very well. It was also a trip into something of myself I didn’t know.”
Key Awards/Festivals: Best Director, Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor (Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists); Official Competition selection (Cannes)
A PIECE OF SKY (Switzerland), dir: Michael Koch
What it’s about: Set in a remote mountain village, the drama revolves around an against-the-odds-love story between a local woman and an outsider farmhand who is struck down by a brain tumor that makes his behavior angry and impulsive
Deadline’s take: “A glorious love story between a man and a woman, between a community that is both supportive and meddlesome and, perhaps most importantly, between these rooted people and the world where they live and work.”
Director comment: “It took me, like, seven years to make this movie. While writing the script, I met all these people. I asked them if they’d like to participate in the film, and they did, which gives the film, I think, something really special.”
Key Awards/Festivals: Special Mention (Berlin), Silver Alexander (Thessaloniki), First Cut+ (Karlovy Vary)
THE QUIET GIRL (Ireland), dir: Colm Bairead; U.S. Distributor: Super
What it’s about: Nine-year-old Cáit is sent away from her overcrowded and dysfunctional family to live with foster parents for the summer. Quietly struggling at school and at home, she has learned to hide in plain sight from those around her. She blossoms in the foster family’s care, but in this house, where there are meant to be no secrets, she discovers one painful truth.
Deadline’s take: “Catherine Clinch, who was 12 when the film was shot, is simply everything. This is filmmaking at its most alchemical, turning every ingredient to gold.”
Director comment: “The whole film really rests on her shoulders… She had this ability or this sort of understanding, I felt, of the camera and of allowing the camera to witness her in a sense and it just felt really special and magnetic.”
Key Awards/Festivals: Grand Prize Generation Kplus (Berlin), Audience Award/Discovery Award – Director (Dublin), Cinematography (European Film Awards); Film, Director, Cinematography, Actress, Editing, Production Design, Original Score (Irish Film and Television Awards)
RETURN TO SEOUL (Cambodia), dir: Davy Chou; U.S. Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
What it’s about: Freddie, a 25-year-old French woman travels to South Korea to find her biological family. Having been adopted and raised in France, her travel to an unknown country takes her life in new and unexpected directions.
Deadline’s take: “Freddie’s journey is complicated, and the structure reflects that. It’s a journey worth taking.”
Director comment: “The story is based on the true story of one of my very close friends in France… Seeing the very complex and contradictory feelings [behind] two different sides of a broken history was very, very special — and shocking. And that’s what I kept in mind.”
Key Festivals/Awards: Best Director, Best New Performance (Asia Screen Pacific Awards); Best Picture (Athens); Best Film (Boston Society of Film Critics); New Generation Award (Los Angeles Film Critics Association); Official Selection (Cannes – Un Certain Regard)
SAINT OMER (France), dir: Alice Diop
What it’s about: A pregnant novelist attends the troubling trial of a young Senegalese woman accused of killing her 15-month-old daughter by abandoning her to the rising tide on a beach in northern France.
Deadline’s take: “Allows the audience to get into the mind of someone suffering on a level beyond comprehension.”
Director’s comment: “I attended the trial of a Senegalese woman who killed her infant daughter by leaving her on a beach in the north of France… It changed me, and it really put me in dialogue with the darkest part of my relationship to maternity.”
Key Awards/Festivals: Directors to Watch (Palm Springs), Best Screenplay (Chicago), Top Five International Films (National Board of Review), Grand Jury Prize, Best Debut Film (Venice), AFI & Toronto selection, Independent Spirit Awards nomination – Best International Film
WAR SAILOR (Norway), dir: Gunnar Vikene
What it’s about: Spanning the years 1939-1972 and drawing on true stories, the drama follows the fate of friends and civilian sailors Alfred and Sigbjørn as they face endless perils at sea, buffeted by a war in which they are not playing a combat role.
Deadline’s take: “Sprawling, packed with anecdote and surging from one dramatic peak to the next.”
Director comment: “We have sold so many more tickets that we hoped for, but what has been really, really great and moving to all of us is the stories we have gotten from people with a connection to this story.”
Key Awards/Festivals: Audience Prize (Haugesund), Toronto selection, Cameraimage selection
More contenders: Eternal Spring (Canada), Last Film Show (India), Where the Wind Blows (Hong Kong), Plan 75 (Japan), The Kings of the World (Colombia)
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