Art Shmart: A Movie Short

Nikki Sansone

For international filmmakers looking to be nominated for a future Oscar, the competition is stiff. Academy rules mandate that each country can only put forth one film for nomination, otherwise “the selection process would become ‘unmanageable,'” commented Marc Johnson, chairman of the Academy’s foreign language committee.

The Academy was hit with particularly scathing criticism for their foreign film policy this year. Some members of the Academy have yielded to say that the barrage was not entirely unjustifiable; however, they see few options available for fair reform. If France makes fifty films in a year, and Ecuador only one, how can the Academy possibly judge these two industries side-by-side? The Academy’s policies may not do much in the way of rewarding international up-and-coming international film industries, but the one-film-per-country does do its part to vary up the grab bag. This year no less than 63 countries submitted films for the 80th Academy Awards, ranging from Azerbaijan to Vietnam.

The Academy’s stringent policy on foreign films was thrust into the spotlight this year in particular over the issue of Julian Shnabel’s widely acclaimed film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et le papillon). You might recognize Julian Shnabel from “Art Since 1945” and recall his early paintings that incorporated neatly arranged shards of glass plates.

Many plates and three films later, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is an adaptation of the novel written by former French Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby. It is the personal account of Buaby’s experience suffering from “locked-in” syndrome after a stroke at the age of forty-three. “Locked-In” syndrome occurs most frequently after strokes, and the patient is both aware and awake but has absolutely no motor or communicatory function.

The novel was written through a series of blinks and letter charts devised by Bauby’s medical therapists, and the movie speaks through the fantastical world in which Bauby was forced to occupy to cope with the trauma of his condition. When France passed over both The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and La Vie en Rose to submit Persepolis in for Academy consideration (which ultimately did not even make it on the Oscar’s shortlist) the outcry was deafening.

Similar dilemmas plagued the whole of the international film community. Israel’s The Band’s Visit was passed over for consideration because it contained too much English. The movie recounts the true story of an Egytian band that came to play in Israel, and was haphazardly left stranded in a desolate Israeli town. The only way the Egyptians and the Israelis could communicate was in English-though this part of the plot was nonetheless overlooked.

Israel submitted Beaufort instead and made the final five. The other four foreign film nominations included 12 from Russia, Katyn from Poland, Mongol from Kazakhstan and Die F?aalscher (The Counterfeiters) from Austria.

The biggest upset might not have been what films were submitted to the Academy, but rather what films were noticably absent. Romania’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days was the winner of the impressive Palme D’Or in Cannes and unanimously thought to be a sure-fire Oscar winner. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days deals with back-street abortion in communist Romania and it has been speculated that given the subject material the movie might have been too “testing for conservative members of the Academy’s Foreign Film Committee, whose volunteers tend to include many reitrees.”

Best foreign film went to The Counterfeiters. Persepolis, unfortunately, lost best animated film to Ratatouille; La Vie en Rose won for best makeup.