On Human Rights & Censorship, World Cultures, Wanderlust and Media Criticism
LOS ANGELES | Have you noticed that the French and the Scandinavians (once again) dominate the Golden Globe Award nominees for best foreign language films? To a disproportionate degree: two nominees come from France, two from Scandinavia, with the front-runner (from Austria) easily construed as French.
Normally you get a veritable United Nations sampling. One country, one slot. What makes the foreign-language film category so special is its gloriously wide range and its inclusion of stories American moviegoers don’t usually get to see. Call it Hollywood-style Cultural Diplomacy. Given that the Golden Globes presenter is none other than the foreign press, you would expect it to represent a diversity of international cinema. Unfortunately, it does not.
Unsurprisingly, the Academy Awards followed suit. Save for Canada (War Witch) and Chile (No), this year’s nominees for best foreign film in the 85th Academy Awards were notably from Europe, with no Asian or African representation. Among them were the expected likes of Austria’s French-language film Amour, Norway’s Kon-tiki and Denmark’s A Royal Affair — all three Golden Globes nominees. The other two GG nominees are from France (The Intouchables) and France (Rust and Bone).
This year, the geographic spread in the best foreign-language category looks thin, meager and too Euro-dominated. Whoever wins, you won’t get to enjoy the cynic’s satisfaction of accusing the Golden Globes or the Academy Awards for being radical chic, since there’s no chance for a politically correct winner to emerge from an exotic conflict zone like Iran, Palestine or Afghanistan.
So what exactly happened that the French and Scandinavians grabbed the booty? This question comes to mind, not just because of this yesterday’s announcement of the Academy Award. As it has for 10 years running, the American Cinematheque is presently screening all five Golden Globe nominees for Foreign-Language Film at the Egyptian Theater and Aero Theater in the Los Angeles area. The screenings take place through January 11. See the American Cinematheque website for details.
There will be a public discussion on Saturday, January 12: To mark this 10th year of this film series, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (in association with Cinematheque and Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television) is presenting a “Golden Globes Foreign Language Film Symposium.” The January 12 symposium features the directors of the five nominated films. They are Jacque Audiard (Rust and Bone), Joachim Ronning & Espen Sandberg (Kon-tiki), Michael Haneke (Amour), Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) and Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano (The Intouchables).
The 70th Annual Golden Globe® Awards will take place on Sunday, January 13, 2013, live coast-to-coast on NBC from 5:00-8:00 p.m. (PST)/8:00-11:00 p.m. (EST) from the Beverly Hilton Hotel. For more information, please visit http://www.goldenglobes.org/.
Moderated by a Swede — Lasse Halmström (My Life as a Dog) — the GG symposium will be streamed live on the Golden Globes site on Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 11:00 AM PST (Los Angeles). In Paris, that schedule translates to Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 8:00 PM CET. If you would like to submit a question to the panelists, you may email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and country.
Do you think someone will actually ask why the geographic representation among this year’s nominees is so remarkably limited? I think not. After all, the directors slated to speak didn’t self-nominate; they had no real say in the matter.
France continues to dominate the Golden Globes
Last year’s triumph of The Artist, the French film director Michel Hazanavicius’s silent-movie love letter to old Hollywood cinema, was no fluke. The Artist was the undisputed king of the 2012 Golden Globes. It also reigned at the 2012 Academy Awards, garnering five Oscars for best picture, best directing, best costume design, best original music score and best actor.
Critics argue that The Artist‘s amazing showing was a triumph of marketing over art. Perhaps. The less-glib reply is that France has one of the world’s greatest film traditions. And that the love affair between France and Hollywood has never abated.
Look at the stats: In both the Golden Globes (GG) and the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, France has been one of the most successful countries in the world, followed by the United Kingdom, Italy and Sweden. Excluding 2013, France has garnered the most number of Golden Globe nominations: 73 total nominations (including the Samuel Goldwyn International Award). Number 2 and 3 are United Kingdom and Italy.
In terms of actual GG wins (since 1950), however, the most honored country remains the United Kingdom (with 16 wins), followed by France (11 wins), and followed by Italy, Sweden and West Germany (8 wins each).
These figures, which do not include this current award year, are based on the results I generated from the official GG website, which allows for quick database searches. Looking more globally, the search results reveal:
The Golden Globes began awarding foreign films in 1950. Before 1974, the award was given infrequently. In 1950, for example, only two films were nominated (The Bicycle Thief from Italy and The Fallen Idol from the U.K.). Based on the database results, there were years when several films were jointly honored. In 1955, four winners were named [Twenty-Four Eyes (Nijushi no hitomi) from Japan); No Way Back (Weg Ohne Umkehr) from West Germany; The Lady of the Camellias from Argentina; and Genevieve (United Kingdom)].
After 1974, the Golden Globes followed the Academy’s discerning pattern of nominating a broad selection of foreign films, with each country nominated for one slot and only one winner to be named.
The GG morphed again. Perhaps stirred by multiculturalism and nativist passions, language took firmer hold in the mid-1980s. Until 1986, the category was known as “Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film.” Any film from outside the United States could be nominated. That included the U.K., which had received the most number of GG nominations over the years. France began to overtake the U.K. after 1987, when the category was re-named “Best Foreign Language Film.” U.K. films were no longer eligible. The last U.K. film that was nominated (and won) for Best Foreign Film was A Passage to India (1985). More important: starting in 1987, English-language films from abroad (e.g., from the U.K.) began to be considered for the Best Motion Picture awards in the Golden Globe Awards. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association specifically makes foreign-language films ineligible for its two Best Picture Awards (Best Drama and Best Musical or Comedy). That’s not the case at the Academy Awards. Take the case of Amour, which I discuss below.
This language requirement has produced oddities, redolent of globalization and the internationalism of the arthouse market. Foreign films whose principal language is not English but whose filmmakers are Americans and Brits became eligible for the foreign-language slot. For example: recent Golden Globe winner Letters from Iwo Jima (directed by Clint Eastwood but in Japanese) as well as Golden Globe nominees Apocalypto (directed by Mel Gibson in the Mayan language); The Kite Runner (Marc Forster, director); and In the Land of Blood and Honey (Angelina Jolie, director). Brit and Americans filmmakers suddenly became eligible for a foreign-film award that was designed as a cultural tool against xenophobia (also known as Hollywood’s Antiforeignism Theory of International Awards.)
Since 1987, GG’s eligibility practices in the foreign-language film category became lax, compared to the rigid UN-style diplomacy of the Academy Award. Whereas the Academy allows one entry per country, in the Golden Globes countries may submit more than one film for consideration. Serge Rakhlin, chairman of the foreign-language film committee of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, confirms in an email: “We are proud that we do not limit submission by the country to only one film. This prevents any political or personal biases of the particular country film community or authorities to enter into our process. This year several countries were represented by more than one film.”
Since there is no limit to the number of films that can be submitted from a given country, Western European countries, which have historically dominated this category, are free to snow the Golden Globes with submissions, and, as this year’s tally proves, continue to exert their domination. “In my humble opinion,” states Rakhlin, “our rules [are] open without any bias for honest competition to as many participants as want to participate. If every country which is a member of the UN will submit one film or more, we will gladly accept all of them and consider them for the Golden Globe Award.”
Filmmakers and producers from Asia, Africa and South America, take heed: Think of it as the Inalienable Principle of Increasing International Prestige Value. You get but one chance to shine in the Academy Awards. If your film submission does not advance to the next stage of Academy Award consideration (nine films advanced this year, seven of them from Europe), don’t fret. The market for a winning a Golden Globe is more laden with chances and probabilities. Go ahead — act French. Submit more than one film!
“I can assure you that our membership votes for the nominations and the Golden Globe Award totally by merit after watching submitted films,” Rakhlin says. “All the voting is done by all membership — not by the special committees. Members are not allowed to influence other members on their choices.”
In theory the Golden Globes has more enlightened rules than the Academy Award system, but it does not necessarily follow that GG ideals are applied more rigorously or more actively. In terms of the broad sweep of GG history, special preferences have been given to particular countries that have a great cinema history or large film industry.
The curious case of Amour
This year’s front-runner for the Golden Globe, Amour looks poised to win either a Golden Globe or Academy Award for best foreign-language film — or both. It’s got a chance of winning four more major prizes, since it was nominated by the Academy for best picture, best director (Michael Haneke), best original screenplay (Haneke) and best actress (Emmanuelle Riva). Already Austria has grabbed credit: “A great moment in Austrian cinema!” exclaims the Austrian Film Commission.
Ironically, if Amour does win, France will have ultimately triumphed — again.
The film stars some of the finest French actors today: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva and Isabelle Huppert. They speak in French. The narrative unfolds in Paris. Practically every media item about Amour calls it a French film. Heck, the film’s distributor Sony Pictures Classic labels the movie as coming from France on the GG website:
Amour won’t win any Austrian awards. Because Amour is filmed in French, it does not meet one of the required criteria for the annual Austrian Film Awards (AFA). Amour does not have an Austrian certificate of origin, a delegate producer and evidence of “significant Austrian cultural influence.” In its home turf, Amour would have been eligible only for the directing, screenplay and editing prizes.
Haneke withdrew his film from consideration in the race for Austria’s top film prize on the basis that he should step aside and pave the way for less internationally acclaimed Austrian filmmakers to shine. He took a gamble: that Universal Law of I’m-Too-Internationally-Successful-For-You-To-Mess-With would work in his favor. ( The American stage director Robert Wilson’s entire career rests on this Law’s application.) With five Oscar nods and a Golden Globe nod, Haneke hit the jackpot.
So did Austria: from a cultural diplomacy standpoint, Austria recognized a sure winner in the global film market — Haneke is a writer/director of Austrian descent — so Amour became the country’s official entry to the Academy Awards, just as Haneke’s 2005 film, Cache (Hidden), did in the 2006 Oscars. Most Austrian submissions in the past were in German. In 2001 and 2005, the Austrian submissions were filmed in French and dubbed into German when they were submitted for consideration for the Academy. In 2009, the Austrian film submission was mostly in Persian and Turkish. Austria counts one Academy Award win: The Counterfeiters by Stefan Ruzowitzky in 2007.
By Austrian film standards, Amour is the victor that slipped past continually shifting rules. In 2006, Austria submitted Haneke film’s Cache, but this 2005 film was disqualified by the Academy because, like Amour, it was in French. This haunting story of a Parisian family stalked by someone videotaping them was filmed in France; it starred Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche. The Academy rules used to say that a foreign film had to be predominantly in the language of the country that submits it. This requirement has previously prevented other countries from submitting films where the majority of the dialogue was spoken in an immigrant or non-native language. (In Canada, the Inuktitut language is an aboriginal language, but it is not official throughout the country. Canada’s 2001 Inuktitut-speaking submission Atanarjuat was disqualified.) The Academy changed this language requirement in the following year (2007), thus paving dividends for Amour this year.
French is not predominantly the language of Austria, and Amour is not an Austrian film in the same manner that, say, Kon-tiki is a Norwegian film or Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills is a Romanian film. Curiously, on the same Golden Globe webpage (shown above), Kon-tiki is denied its full Norwegian nationality. The GG site states that the film comes from “Norway/UK/Denmark” — as if the addition of those two other countries would somehow pump up the geographic representation of this year’s GG nominees. (Well, it does not. It reiterates my original point about Western European dominance among this year’s foreign film nominees.)
The confusion arises from Europe’s rife co-production practices and complicated financing deals, which are a misleading guide to a film’s provenance. From a money standpoint, for example, Amour is from “Austria/France/Germany.” The film was produced for €7,290,000 through France’s Les Films du Losange, Germany’s X-Filme Creative Pool and Austria’s Wega Film. It received co-production support from France 3 and €404,000 in support from the Île-de-France region. Further funding was granted by the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg in Germany and National Center of Cinematography and the Moving Image in France.
Rust and Bone should be “France/Belgium,” since it was co-produced with France 2 Cinéma and the Belgian company Les Films du Fleuve. Produced by Zentropa, the historical drama A Royal Affair is a co-production among Denmark, Sweden and the Czech Republic. By the same token, Kon-tiki ought to simply be from “Norway.”
In terms of eligibility, which should reign supreme — language or a director’s nationality or financing? The official Golden Globe Awards website does not look like it knows either. Here’s a screen capture, dated January 6, 2013, where the database manager has left the “country” of each 2013 foreign film nominee tellingly blank:
Serge Rakhlin of the Hollywood Foreign Press acknowledges the difficulties of assigning nationalities: “With current complicated system of international film financing and production, we are basically honoring the filmmakers. As an example: one of 3 [films among] this year’s submission from Russia was the film Faust (Golden Lion winner in Venice). The film is in German language, but the director is Russian Alexander Sokurov. Same thing with Amour and Mr. Haneke.”
Amour is not an Austrian film, except by provenance. It is a French film, albeit with an Austrian director. More precisely, Amour is a francophone film.
Amour‘s extraordinary showing in this year’s awards sweepstakes exposes the fault-lines of a foreign-language requirement in both the GG and the AA. Although the various rule changes over the years were perhaps meant to benefit indigenous or non-native immigrant or non-official languages, in the end European countries that have large film industries and sophisticated financing acumen (like France, U.K. and the U.S.) can game the system to their best advantage.
The Academy Award’s one-country-one-film rule may allow smaller countries like Iceland or Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as un-official countries such as “Hong Kong” and “the Palestinian Territories,” to be placed on equal footing with major releases from established filmmaking nations once nominations are announced. But it also prevents the foreign-film category from being a true guide of the best of the best of international cinema, since it forces countries to exclude many films because they are forced to select one film.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) has tried to overcome this problem by opening up its submission process. If you survey the GG nominees database between 1987 to 2011, its members have nominated many foreign-language films that would have never otherwise grabbed international attention. (Such as last year’s winner: A Separation, directed by Asghar Farhadi, from Iran, a country with a glorious film tradition.)
But not this year, based on this year’s slate: For the first time, the HFPA’s more open submission process did not ensure that countries outside of Europe had a fighting chance to be recognized on an international forum.
How many countries submitted films for consideration for the Golden Globes in 2013? “43 countries,” Rakhlin replies, citing Bangladesh, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Poland, Peru, Paraguay, Malaysia and the Netherlands. (He did not mention an African country.) As for the Academy Awards, 71 countries were submitted for consideration. Because of Hollywood’s Eurocentric Conception of International Relations, the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards produced a practically identical slate of nominees, and there were glaring omissions. What happened to Asia, Africa and the rest of South America?
If you’ve read this far, you will no doubt argue: But didn’t Amour or Kon-tiki or A Royal Affair receive their nominations based on artistic merit? Perhaps, though according to the LA Weekly this year’s unremarkably Eurocentric choices have been standard-operating procedure: “Featuring the usual mix of prior award winners (Amour, Rust and Bone), crowd-pleasers (The Intouchables) and relative outliers (A Royal Affair, Kon-Tiki), the field is fairly standard for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (and, for that matter, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences): decent but hardly reflective of the riches offered by the year’s international cinema.”
Bigger point: Beyond the diversity issue, I’d like to call attention to the Radical Inclusion Principle of Expanding America’s Idea of World Cinema. According to this principle, the HFPA needs to be less interested in curtseying to and fawning over the Hollywood elite. Instead the foreign press should have the greater ethical onus — indeed: the critical responsibility — to go out on a limb for smaller or other countries whose film traditions or whose recent best films are less well-known or less well-appreciated and not to mention the least represented in the global film market. What does it say about our world film culture that the same European countries that have historically reigned in the foreign-film category are, by design if not by intent, systematically given preference and greater recognition?
Amour may be one of the year’s best films, but the unfair dominance of the French and Scandinavians among this year’s GG and AA nominees for best foreign language films does not suggest to me that the best of the best cinema comes mainly from Western Europe. I don’t know about you, but such an assessment seems hard to believe. To me it suggests that the HFPA did not look far enough. Nor did its members dig deep enough into the film traditions of other countries. Neither did it seem to critically engage with world cinema’s diversity more rigorously or more radically.
Jean Hersholt once argued that “an international award, if properly and carefully administered, would promote a closer relationship between American film craftsmen and those of other countries.” Let’s call it, for convenience’s sake, the Jean Hersholt Memorial Law of Foreign-Film Diplomacy. And yet in foreign politics as in globalized cultural matters, marginalized countries and weaker film industries are often unable to present their views and visions effectively due to lack of resources, experience, expertise or marketing budget or state-government support. The Academy Award’s one-country-one-film rule may be annoying and problematic, but at least it has the virtue of systemically ensuring that every country receives a reasonable chance at being recognized.
Not so at the Golden Globes — where each country can flood the foreign-film category with more than one film — where nationality restrictions are not imposed to overcome the warped inequities caused by foreign-language film projects that are internationally financed or artistically led by Westerners — and which turns a blind eye to its own Euro-minded tastes and its institutional biases, come awards season.
If the current GG trend of favoring the aesthetic of European countries persists, then I’d rather suffer under the one-country-one-film quota, no matter how restricting or silly or politically correct it may be. We do not expect the Academy Awards to be a beacon of international relations and cultural diplomacy anyway. But I think an association of the foreign press should be more globally aware of the politics involved. What’s ironical here is that the smart people who hand out a Golden Globe Award have rigged their own rules and criteria so that, for the first time since 1987, this year’s slate of foreign-film nominees has failed to promote greater inclusiveness among nations and to celebrate deeper global diversity through the art of cinema.
Shouldn’t the Golden Globes promote a cinema without borders? — randy gener, in the theater of One World
THE GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINEES FOR BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILMS:
A ROYAL AFFAIR
(EN KONGELIG AFFAERE)
2012, Magnolia Pictures, 137 min., Denmark, Dir. Nikolaj Arcel.
Based on real events, this historical drama is set among the court of Denmark’s mentally ill King Christian VII in the late 1700s. As the King (Mikkel Folsgaard, a Best Actor winner at this year’s Berlin Film Festival) grows further removed from reality, his physician Johann Friedrich Struensee (CASINO ROYALE villain Mads Mikkelsen) exerts increasing influence over the monarch. While Struensee’s support of progressive policies is a boon to the country, his romantic interest in the Queen (Alicia Vikander) is more problematic.
RUST AND BONE
(DE ROUILLE ET D’OS)
2012, Sony Pictures Classics, 120 min., France, Dir. Jacques Audiard.
Single father and would-be kickboxer Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) is working as a nightclub bouncer when he meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), who works at a marine park training killer whales. When Stephanie’s legs are amputated after an accident, she draws closer to Ali, but the young man’s wandering eye and financial straits threaten to keep these soulmates apart. Cotillard’s bravura performance has earned awards from the Telluride Film Festival as well as SAG and Golden Globe nominations.
2012, Sony Pictures Classics, 127 min., Austria, Dir. Michael Haneke.
This heart-breaking look at love in the twilight of life won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and was named best film of the year by Time magazine. The latest film from acclaimed writer-director Michael Haneke is the story of retired music teachers Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and George (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who are living a quiet life in their Paris apartment when Anne suffers a stroke. Her condition deteriorates following surgery, and she exacts a promise from her husband not to send her to a nursing home – but the strain of caring for his wife mounts on George, and daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) is little help.
2011, The Weinstein Company, 112 min., France, Dirs. Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano.
In this sparkling comedy, Philippe (Francois Cluzet) is a wealthy quadriplegic looking for a new live-in caretaker. Senegalese immigrant Driss (Omar Sy, who earned a Best Actor Cesar for this role) seems an unlikely choice at first, but because he treats his new employer without pity, the two hit it off. Their widely different backgrounds offer each a window into a new world: Driss experiences art and culture, and Philippe, encouraged by his young friend, brings a woman into his life. A major box office hit throughout Europe.
2012, Nordisk Fil Distribution, 118 min., Norway, Dirs. Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg,
Norway’s grandest production to date translates Thor Heyerdahl’s intrepid 1947 journey across the Pacific on a primitive raft into a larger-than-life, visually dazzling epic. Ethnographer Thor (Pal Sver Haggen, about whom The Hollywood Reporter writes “has something of the young Peter O’Toole about him, evincing charisma and madness nearly in equal measure”), along with a motley crew, assembles a raft inspired by the pre-Colombian Incas as a means of proving his theory that the Polynesian islands were settled by South Americans crossing the Pacific. What follows is the Peru-to-Polynesia excursion, which co-directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg and a crew of hundreds fill with first-rate adventure, high-seas gravitas and nail-biting suspense, set against majestic cinematography.
The 70th Annual Golden Globe® Awards will take place on Sunday, January 13, 2013, LIVE coast-to-coast on NBC from 5:00-8:00 p.m. (PST)/8:00-11:00 p.m. (EST) from the Beverly Hilton Hotel. For more information, please visit http://www.goldenglobes.org/.