• Golden Globe Awards

Our Nominees: Best Motion Picture-Foreign Language

Divines, directed by Houda Benyamina, France. Meet Dounia, a petite tough and brash mixed race teenager from the eastern Parisian suburbs. Restless, reckless and rebellious, she is obsessed with making of lot of money, the only way out of her dreary life in the projects and a gloomy future. With her plump and good-humored BFF Maimouna, she is determined to achieve that goal, by any means necessary, even if it means working for the ruthless neighborhood dealer Rebecca, a cunning and abrasive loudmouth with a taste for boy-toys. Will it be the ticket to a better tomorrow for the exuberant girlfriends?Defiant and gutsy, fueled with a contagious lust for life , they embark full speed ahead on a dangerous roller coaster ride with unexpected hurdles, confronted in the end to something bigger than they had never bargained for.Divines is the high-voltage debut by Franco-Moroccan director Houda Benyamina who won the Camera d’Or for best first film last May at the Cannes film festival where it got a ten minutes standing ovation at the first screening. Part coming of age story, part feminist and sociological manifesto, it is a provoking and often riveting female buddy thriller that dares to play with the stereotypes of the genre in a knock-out style. Pulsating with bursts of violence and lyrical and poetic moments, enhanced by a soundtrack that features rap and hip hop but also Haendel and Mozart as well as Arabic melodies.Comparisons have already been made with two recent similarly themed films, like Geraldine Nakhache and Hervé Mimran 2010 All That Glitters and Céline Sciamma 2014 Girlhood. But I did not do a girls in the hood movie”, Benyamina insists. “My film is about love and friendship.”  The 35 years old self-taught director partly based Dounia on herself. ‘She resembles me when I was 14 to 16 . I was humiliated, left at the edge of society. I was a violent teenager and I did a lot of crazy things but I found a way channel  my anger and finally express myself with cinema without having to go to the extremes like her.”She credits Pasolini’s Medea for changing her life. “I realized then that cinema is the most complete form of art, she recalls. It’s a reconciliation between painting, music and theater and I wanted to do what he was doing.” She had quite an eclectic mix of inspirations for Divines, mentioning in the same breath Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time In America, Spike Lee, Muhammad Ali and Bertrand Blier ‘s 1974 Going Places. Another element that fed her writing was the November 2005 violent riots that happened in the Paris banlieue and the unrests that followed. It helped her shape the tragic and bittersweet ending. My creative motor is fuelled by the feeling of injustice and unfairness, just like my characters. I always felt the urge to fight it and be behind a camera to give a different voice to women. For me it is also important to feminize courage.” As the firecracker with attitude, Dounia is played with visceral pugnacity by Oulaya Amanra, the director’s little sister, in a mesmerizing performance. Dialogues are often punchy and raunchy and everyone who has seen the film will never forget such memorable one liner as “You’ve got pussy. I dig it.” Indeed, Divines is a timely movie with balls. (Jean Paul Chaillet) Elle, directed by Paul Verhoeven, France. Paul Verhoeven’s new film, Elle, came was a hit at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and certainly one of the most talked-about films of the year, sparking debate over its treatment of rape.Adapted from the novel, “Oh…” by French writer Philippe Djian, David Birke’s screenplay is a mix of drama, comedy and thriller. The project, helmed by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, the provocateur filmmaker behind such films as Basic Instinct, Showgirls, and Starship Troopers. The film was initially to be set in America with a Hollywood actress as its star. But Verhoeven (78) couldn’t find anyone in the U.S. willing to appear in it, let alone to finance it, so the story went back to its source. “After two months of trying, the producer (Said Ben Said) and I decided to bring it back to France, we had a French novel and a French actress interested in doing it from the very beginning, so we rewrote the whole script back into French and that was the road we took,” says Verhoeven.As the director likes to put it, Elle is a “human comedy" – a black human comedy that is. The protagonist, Michèle Leblanc, a leading video game company executive in Paris and divorced mother, brings the same ruthless attitude to her love life and to her business. Being attacked and raped in her home by an unknown assailant Michèle, through very unorthodox means, will seek revenge on her attacker. But as the movie presents her she is as much a victim as the casualty of the world she belongs to; and if this were not enough, Michèle is revealed to be the daughter of Charles Leblanc, a notorious 1970 serial killer, now safely behind bars.French actress Isabelle Huppert gives an intense performance, holding the audience at bay with her portray of a woman dealing with the aftermath of her own rape. “I don’t think of Michèle as victim nor as an avenger, “explains Huppert, who doesn’t feel like falling into any predictable caricature and confesses to not like playing victims in her films. “Michèle doesn’t really think of what she’s going to do, she just does it,” continues the Huppert who emphasizes that as an actress she has to understand the character but not necessarily make her lovable for the audience.Huppert, 63, is among the most celebrated actresses in world cinema. She is a two-time winner of the actress award at Cannes, and a winner of a Cesar award. She can  also be seen in the upcoming Things to Come, directed by Mia Hansen-Løve, in which she plays a philosophy professor whose husband abruptly leaves her, two very different performances that show the wide range of Huppert’s acting. (Paz Mata) Neruda, directed by Pablo Larraín, Chile.From the moment it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in the Directors Fortnight, this film was an instant sensation. Shortly after the debut, it was acquired for domestic release in the US and France, and was the talk of the town. Neruda was not only a very well made film, but a very courageous one. After all, it dares to take one of the biggest poets in the Spanish language, and Chile’s most famous one, and build a story that does not necessarily follow the truth, but instead fashions a new one, in the same way the Nobel Prize of Literature would have told his own life.The director, Pablo Larraín, who received a Golden Globe nomination last year for El Club and this year has also authored a subjective biography of Jacqueline Kennedy (Jackie), describes the film as an “anti-biopic”. Nonetheless the film is a very elaborate period piece, describing the moment in the 40s when the revered poet went from senator to fugitive. It is set in Chile during the convoluted post Second World War period and Neruda is played magnificently by Luis Gnecco, who had to gain several pounds to look like the real writer.Even if the film mixes fact and fiction, most of what is depicted really happened, from the debates in the Chilean Senate, to the loving, slightly older Argentine wife who belonged to the local aristocracy. All the rest is the creation of screenwriter Guillermo Calderón (whose screenplay for Larrain’s El Club was awarded prizes at last year’s Chicago and Mar del Plata film festivals) and Gael García Bernal, who was allowed to improvise greatly for the role of the policeman pursuing Neruda.The film begins in 1948, when Pablo Neruda was already the most famous writer in Chile, and one of the most celebrated poets in the world. He was also a devoted politician for the Communist Party, a very strong organization in that country that helped the President Gabriel Gonzalez Videla (portrayed of one of Larrain's regulars, Alfredo Castro) come to power. But at the beginning of the Cold War, Gonzalez Videla slides to the right and aligns himself with the United States, banning his former allies and stripping Neruda from his privileged position.He also personally recruits and commands Police Chief Oscar Peluchonneau (Garcia Bernal), himself a frustrated writer, to arrest him. The officer is at once Neruda’s relentless pursuer and an ardent admirer of his art, which he secretly wants to emulate. Most of the film is about Neruda as he endeavors to evade Peluchonneau’s pursuit helped by a cadre of comrades, but at the same time finds ways of being noticed, trying to demonstrate that the Government is not really trying to capture him. As the plot thickens the border between reality and fiction is blurred and the pursuit begins to mirror what could itself be the storyline of a Neruda novel. Calderon not only uses Neruda's own words, particularly from Canto General, the book he wrote during the persecution, but also finds a way to follow his peculiar literary style, crafting a film full of poetry. (Gabriel Lerman)The Salesman, directed by Asgha Farhadi, Iran/France. In 2012 the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi was awarded a Golden Globe for his film A Separation. With this universally acclaimed film Farhadi who started his career in the late 1990’s established himself as a major filmmaker coming out of Iran. Dancing in the Dust was his feature film debut in 2002.Now Farhadi’s The Salesman debuted at this year’s Cannes Film Festival where it garnered a Palme D’Or for Best Script and Best Actor for Shahab Hosseini. Hosseini plays Emad who with Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are a couple in contemporary Teheran. Both are active in a local theatrical production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (hence the title of the film). When their apartment is suddenly damaged they are forced to leave their home. A member of the theater group offers help: an apartment which was recently abandoned. The couple moves in not knowing that the previous inhabitant was a woman who entertained men for money.This lack of knowledge turns out to be tragically fateful. It will lead to deep distrust between the couple and to a horrible crisis within an innocent family. One afternoon Rana leaves the apartment door unlocked expecting Emad to arrive at any minute. But instead a man (hidden from our view) enters the apartment. As it becomes clear at a later time, there was only one explanation why the stranger entered the apartment: He obviously came expecting to visit the prostitute.We never really know what happened. But starting with the aftermath of this unplanned encounter the story constantly evolves with increasing tensions and situational suspense as new details emerge.  Scene after scene, the drama unfolds while constantly shifting the moral emphasis from protagonist to protagonist and thereby succeeds in manipulating the viewer’s suspicions, judgments and sympathies.Bringing his well established skill set to full force Asghar Farhadi who wrote, directed and co-produced the Farsi language film, digs deep into the complexities of contemporary Iranian society and the contradictions within gender relations, class and, especially prevalent, personal honor. (Elmar Biebl)Toni Erdmann, directed by Maren Ade, Germany. Imagine your estranged father comes to visit you during one of the most stressful periods that your job has to offer, as you are trying to close an important deal. This is what happens to Ines Conradi whose father Winfried, a divorced music teacher and somewhat of an old hippie, surprises her during a meeting in Bucharest where she is currently posted. After reluctantly introducing him to her co-workers and boss, she convinces him to leave because she has to concentrate on the deal. They have not found a connection, so what is the point of him staying? Winfried is alienated by what he sees as his daughter’s strange and sad life, or lack thereof. He pretends to depart.A few days later, Ines is having dinner with some girlfriends when he reappears, with a black wig and fake teeth and introduces himself as Toni Erdmann, business coach and consultant. The friends buy his disguise and Ines, her embarrassment palpable, has no other choice than to play along. He insinuates himself into her life, forming cordial relationships with her superiors who admire his easy going approach to life.Most of all he finds out that his daughter’s life is driven by overblown career ambitions, meaningless sexual conquests and cocaine abuse. He is genuinely concerned about her and tries to show her another way of living, a return to joy and love, all by playing this ridiculous part of Toni Erdmann.Toni Erdmann is the work of German writer, director and producer Maren Ade, whose first film The Forest for the Trees won the Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005 and whose second, Everyone Else, the Silver Bear at the Berlin Fest in 2009 where it also nabbed the Best Actress Award for lead Birgit Minichmayr. In Toni Erdmann Sandra Hüller is very convincing as the tightly wound Ines who only lets loose once, in one of the most enjoyable scenes of the film, when she belts out Whitney Houston’s "The Greatest Love of All“ during a party in a Florence Foster Jenkins-like performance of wrong notes and high hopes. One of Austria’s great stage actors, Peter Simonischek is brilliant in the title role. (Elisabeth Sereda)