The Oscars best international category: Tough for Filipino films

April 13, 2020

WHY has a film from the Philippines never been nominated in the best foreign language film category (now called best international feature film) of the Oscars in Hollywood since they started giving it away in 1947 to support global filmmaking? We send entry after entry every year and not one has made the grade. 

The closest we have reached is a top five slot with “Mga Munting Tinig”, a film about a young teacher whose pupils joined a rural singing competition, directed by the late Gil Portes. We were told it got to Top 7. And after that, nada.

To find out, we decided to watch many of the films that have won the same prize through the years. We’ve seen some of them when they were released here theatrically, notably “Z” and “A Man and a Woman”, and they were box office hits worldwide . Both were truly astounding then and upon watching them again, they most certainly are still very watchable. 

But most of these Oscar winners were not released here due to a lack of audience, so we’re very happy that they’re now available in streaming channels. As a hopeless film addict, we’re really having a field day watching one award-winning film after the other.  Some are good, some are not that impressive, but they’re all above average by local standards. 

The winners do tell diverse sorts of stories and feature actors of various races in principal roles. They’re truly very educational as we learn more about the countries that made these movies. So we will now review some of these movies we’ve seen in this column hoping it’d get you interested to watch these prize-winning films also.

First is “Z” (which means he is alive’), which won in 1969 and we remember watching it then locally at Maxim Theatre on Recto Ave. We saw it again streaming and it has not lessened its impact on us. It is so timeless and its relevance has not at all diminished. A political thriller directed and co-written by Costa Gavras, it’s a fictionalized account of the killing of leftist Greek opposition politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963 that was made to look like a traffic accident. 

It stars two well known French actors, Yves Montand as the deputy (the victim) and Jean Louis Trintignant as the judge. Their names are not mentioned but they’re well known in their country of origin and the film’s opening says: “Any similarity to actual persons or events is deliberate.”

The judge uncovers evidence of conspiracy involving an ultra-right wing faction of government officials and police officers. But it will enrage you and make you sad, as even moral victories are corrupted, which happens up to now, no doubt. It has not dated at all and has not just withstood the test of time but even transcended it. It’s not just a very effective political drama but also an unbearably suspenseful thriller.

‘A MAN AND A WOMAN’ (Un Homme et un Femme) is a 1966 French film written and directed by Claude Lelouch and is so memorable because of the musical score by Francis Lai that became a world wide hit. It still sounds very fresh in our ears up to now. It’s also noted for its lush cinematography and visual imagery. It didn’t win only in the Oscar but also in the Cannes Filmfest and the Golden Globe. 

We first saw it at Odeon Theatre on Rizal Avenue, a romantic drama about a young widow and a young widower. Anne (Anouk Aimee) works as a script supervisor in Paris while her daughter attends boarding school in northern France. Jean Louis (Jean Louis Trintignant) is a race car driver whose wife is a suicide victim and whose son is also attending the same boarding school where Anne’s daughter goes. 

One day, Anne misses the last train back to Paris and Jean Louis gives her a lift. They’re obviously attracted to each other but their past loves seem to intrude into their present, specially for Anne since her first husband was also a car racer who died in an accident, and it takes a while for their erratic love affair to blossom.

Looking back, the film seems somewhat dated for today’s audiences. The story is really very thin and the drama is not that involving. What makes it work is the filmic style employed on screen to make it look like visual poetry. The director uses lots of fast montages and flash close ups and periodically changes the images on screen from realistic color, to black and white and sepia tones. 

The result is an impressionistic style of his creative or maybe, the characters’ feelings. This movie had a sequel, “A Man and a Woman, 20 years Later”, but it’s no longer as successful as the original. 

Next best foreign film winners we’ll review: “Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow” (Italian, 1964 with Sophia Loren), “Day for Night” (French, 1973, by Francois Truffaut) and “Pelle the Conqueror” (Danish, 1988 with Max Von Sydow).