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Compelling tales enliven Oscar foreign-language quintet

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BERNAL. Portrays an advertising executive in “No.”

While we’re disheartened that Jun Lana’s “Bwakaw,” the country’s entry to this year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar derby, didn’t make the Academy’s official five-nominees list, it’s nonetheless hard to discredit the entries that did make the cut—because, when we saw all five entries last month, we noted how unique each of them was. Moreover, foreign language films need to be seen because they introduce us to issues and cultures that are different from the ones we’re familiar with.

Three of them come from Europe—Austria’s “Amour,” Norway’s “Kon-Tiki,” and Denmark’s “A Royal Affair—and one each from North and South America: Canada’s “War Witch” and Chile’s “No.”

Our personal choice is Oscar winner, “Amour”—Haneke’s second Cannes fest Palme D’Or winner after 2009’s “The White Balloon”—a romantic drama that is as bleak as many films in the celebrated Austrian director’s oeuvre. It won us over with its unsentimental take on a “feel-bad” subject matter.

‘For better or for worse’

At the heart of its story are Anne and Georges, an octogenarian couple (the Oscar-nominated Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant) whose love for each other is severely tested when Anne suffers from a series of strokes and a degenerative illness.

As it examines the “practicality” of the much-abused phrase, “for better or for worse,” it asks viewers just how far they’d go to prove “true” devotion to their loved ones!

We enjoyed “A Royal Affair’s” convoluted but well-staged drama. Nikolaj Arcel helms his Berlin fest-winning script, which chronicles the tumultuous events that transpire after miserable Queen Caroline (Alicia Vikander) falls in love with the German confidant, Dr. Johann Struensee (Mikkelsen), of her neglectful and mentally unstable husband, Danish King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard).

“Kon-Tiki,” Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg’s compelling dramatization of Thor Heyerdal’s 4,300-mile, 101-day voyage with five companions on the Pacific Ocean on a balsa-wood raft in 1947, is a less whimsical version of Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi”—but, it is just as riveting, especially during the adventurers’ run-in with a school of flying fish and other strange, finned creatures!

Ronning and Sandberg’s full-length feature is boosted by the charismatic performances of Pal Sverre (as the relentless Heyerdal) and his co-actors, as well as the production’s sparkling photography—on land and at sea!

In Pablo Larrain’s “No,” Gael Garcia Bernal portrays advertising executive, René Saavedra, who cooked up a daring campaign to help bring down the oppressive regime of Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, when the despotic military leader called for a referendum in 1988!

Despite its eventful tale, we found the storytelling a little stodgy, but its People Power-like development kept us watching until the closing credits rolled.

The gritty realities and senseless brutality depicted in Kim Nguyen’s “War Witch” will make you cringe. It follows the struggle of 14-year-old Komona (Rachel Mwanza) during the African civil war and delineates the difficult decisions she has to make after an intelligent intuition turns her into a war witch—and especially after she falls in love and gets pregnant!


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