After rumors of cronyism, the selection process for France’s official candidate for the Oscar for Best International Film was thoroughly overhauled this summer. These are therefore five films which continue, for the space of a few days, their road to Hollywood. Their list was announced last Thursday, September 15. Next Friday, September 23, the final audition will take place at the CNC in Paris, with a call from the producer, the international sales agent and, if applicable, the American distributor. Following him, the selection committee will designate the French candidate who will succeed Titanium of Julia Ducournau, unhappy last year. Thirty-three films released between January 1 and November 30, 2022 in French cinemas applied for this year.
In July, the new Minister of Culture Rima Abdul-Malak insisted on reforming the commission, accused of giving too much space to French films selected for the Cannes Film Festival. From now on, the representatives of the Académie des César and the Cannes Film Festival no longer sit there. Those from the National Center for Cinema and the Moving Image and Unifrance can only participate as observers, with no voting rights. This new formula commission was made up this year of exporters Hengameh Panahi and Grégoire Melin, producers Philippe Rousselet – freshly awarded the Oscar for Best Film for CODA by Siân Heder – and Didar Domehi (Little Flower), directors Jacques Audiard (The Olympiads) and Michel Gondry (Microbes and diesel), as well as Ariane Toscan du Plantier, director of communication and heritage at Gaumont, as a qualified personality.
As a reminder, French cinema is still and always waiting for a worthy successor to Indochina by Régis Wargnier, the last French winner to date, thirty years ago, in 1993! And even the last French nomination for the Oscars in this category, formerly Best Foreign Language Film, dates back almost three years with Wretched by Ladj Ly. The 95th Academy Awards will take place on Sunday March 12, 2023. In addition, its producers have just been named in the person of Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner.
Full time by Eric Gravel, in theaters since March 16
Among the films distributed in recent months by Haut et court, we would have rather bet on The Night of 12 by Dominik Moll, one of the long-term successes of this summer, to try to defend the colors of France in the United States. The selection committee’s choice ultimately fell on a less dark and perhaps more accessible thriller. Because Full time by Eric Gravel, the only film directed by a man in this decidedly very feminine pre-selection, retraces the exhausting daily life of a mother who runs for an hour and a half after her various food jobs.
Public success was almost there for Full time when it was released last spring. And he enjoys a certain international prestige, thanks to his two awards gleaned at the Venice Film Festival in 2021 in the Orizzonti section, Best Director and Best Actress. Very popular in France, where she has been nominated for the Césars, including the trophy for Best Actress in 2021 for Antoinette in the Cevennes by Caroline Vignal, Laure Calamy is a priori unknown to the American public, for lack of roles in international productions.
Les Pires by Lise Akoka and Romane Gueret, out November 30
Will the device of the film in the film have something to seduce the members of the Academy of American Cinema? We will know soon enough, either at the end of the week, or on Wednesday December 21 when the lists of pre-selections will be announced, or, finally, on Tuesday January 24, 2023, the day of the nominations. By then, this first film about the shooting in a city in Boulogne-Sur-Mer will have met its audience, hopefully. This will confirm all the good that the various festival juries have thought so far of The worstincluding that of the Un certain regard section at Cannes where it won the Grand Prize and that of the Francophone Film of Angoulême which awarded it the Diamond Valois for Best Film.
Children’s stories don’t always find favor with Oscar voters. Indeed, it will be necessary to go back ten years, until revenge by Susanne Bier in 2011, to find the latest winner of the Best Foreign / International Film starring young characters. Before that, there were, among others, My name is Tsotsi by Gavin Hood, Kolya by Jan Sverak and misleading sun by Nikita Mikhalkov in this same gently sentimental register. Otherwise, the presence of a fairly recognizable actor can also help to stand out from the nearly hundred films submitted each year by countries around the world. As in the case of The worst actor Johan Heldenbergh, already starring in Alabama Monroe of Felix van Groeningen, nominated in 2014 as the Belgian candidate.
Review Paris by Alice Winocour, in theaters since September 7
For the moment, everything is going well for See Paris again. Selected in the Directors’ Fortnight at the last Cannes Film Festival, Alice Winocour’s fourth feature film got off to a successful start in theaters in France, thanks to its third place at the national box office last week. Similarly, its director is hardly unknown on the international scene, since she had collaborated on his previous film Nearby with English stars like Eva Green and Matt Dillon. The same can be said for its star Virginie Efira, omnipresent on French screens, although sometimes also abroad, thanks in particular to the latest film by Paul Verhoeven Benedettapresented at the opening of the Cannes Film Festival in 2021.
That said, one can wonder about the relevance of the subject treated, certainly with great delicacy, in See Paris again for viewers not directly or even remotely affected by the traumatic events around the attacks in the mid-2010s. All the universal value of cinema should therefore be manifested so that an American public really clings to this intrinsically French story, even Parisian.
Saint Omer by Alice Diop, out November 23
Alice Diop’s first feature film has not yet been released in French cinemas. However, Saint-Omer seems to us like the film to beat for the moment. His international prestige is no longer to be proven, since he won two important prizes at the Venice Film Festival ten days ago. And its director belongs to the promising new voices of a French cinema that is both uninhibited and open to subjects off the beaten track.
While American Film Academy voters generally like trial dramas, such as The Chicago Seven by Aaron Sorkin, nominated in the category of Best Film in 2021, on the international film side, this genre, which is always a little academic, is not necessarily the most requested. Thus, without any claim of exhaustiveness, we would have to go back to 2018 to find one: the Lebanese candidate The Insult by Ziad Doueiri. The latter had to bow to A fantastic woman by Sebastian Lelio.
One Beautiful Morning by Mia Hansen-Løve, out October 5
And if A nice morning was the low-key candidate that almost no one saw coming, but who would end up coming closest to the Dolby Theater? The ingredients seem to be in place to enable it, eventually, to impose itself against Saint-Omer : a director whose reputation is second to none, also thanks to her previous film in English, Bergman Island with Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth; a star widely known beyond our borders, since Léa Seydoux played an essential role in the Palme d’Or of The Life of Adele by Abdellatif Kechiche in 2013 and that she was James Bond’s partner in two films. Without forgetting what could prove to be the main asset of this major release next October: the theme of the loss of memory and autonomy among our elderly fellow citizens.
The last Oscar for Foreign Film in French had already invested body and soul there. What had brought luck in 2013 to Love of Michael Haneke with Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, then the official candidate of Austria. The only possible shadow on the board would then be the side action of the connection of the character of Seydoux with that of Melvil Poupaud, a romantic deviation certainly very French, although likely to divert the attention of the American public from the mental decline experienced by the father interpreted by Pascal Greggory.
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Oscars 2023: the 5 French International Film semi-finalists – Film Critic