The best foreign language Oscar nominees demonstrate the diversity of cinema

Toni Erdmann, a tragicomedy by Maren Ade, is ‘s favorite for the Oscar to be awarded on February 26. But the entire field shows the diversity of film outside Hollywood.

The Conversation invited scholars from all over the world to explain why these films are important, both in their home countries and on the biggest cinema stage.

The Salesman in Iran

Asghar Farhadi, the director of the 2015 film The salesman, will once again represent Iranian cinema in Los Angeles. The film exposes a subliminal cultural issue in Iran, namely how to react to an abuse act in a relationship between a man and woman in a predominantly male society.

The story revolves around a young couple of artists, Rana (Taraneh Alidousti) and ‘Emad’ (Shab Hosseini), as they put on a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Rana’s marriage is thrown into turmoil when a stranger attacks her in her own home. Farhadi uses the scenario to ask how we act in times of crisis.

The Salesman is a classic American film adapted by Asghar Fahhadi. Memento Films Distribution

Farhadi takes on this controversial cultural issue within a society with traditional values where the “honor” of women is defined as their sexuality, and that of men by how they control it. The audience watches ‘Emad struggle to reconcile the cultural norms of revenge, forgiveness and resentment. Rana’s defenseless behaviour evokes an impression of a passive, victim who avoids conflicts because of terror.

As we’ve seen in Farhadi’s previous films The Past 2013, A Separation 2011 and About Elly 2009, the narrative is filled with suspense and tension. Farhadi’s realistic narrative style reveals his expertise in documenting conflict and confrontation, which leads his characters to make important decisions about their lives.

The cast of The Saleman is eagerly awaiting the Oscar results after the success of The Saleman at the Cannes Film Festival where it won awards for the best script and the best male actor. Farhadi’s cast has announced that they will not be on the red carpet in protest of US President Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban.

A Man Called Ove, Sweden

Ove lives in a semi detached home in a small suburb of Sweden, all by himself. The US tagline is “Misery loves company” and Ove’s only desire for company is his dead wife. The film opens with Ove about to commit suicide in order to be with his wife, who has died.

This opening may sound very Swedish. It could be a scene from an Ingmar-Bergman film, or even a Lars Noren drama. Man Called Ove, however, is a different story. If you do not offer a more comforting view of life, it is unlikely that the biggest audience for a Swedish movie has been attracted in recent years.

A Man Called Ove, Bahar Pars & Rolf Lassgard. Nordisk Films

Ove’s story is told in a warmly humorous and emotional way. It values the breaking of barriers. Barriers between individuals, such as the ones between the grumpy Ove and his normal neighbours. But also barriers of race, class, and prejudices that prevent people from joining an inclusive community.

Bahar Pars’, the film’s Swedish-Iranian lead actress, might have been prevented from attending the Oscars ceremony due to uncertainty regarding US President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

Based on the internationally bestselling novel of Fredrik Backman, the film combines the story of Ove’s struggle to overcome loneliness with flashbacks of events from his life and Swedish History. The film uses Ove to trace the evolution of a Swedish welfare state. The film invites viewers to indulge in nostalgia for the past, as well as fantasies of how modern lives could once again be filled with meaningful relationships.

Hannes Holm is an experienced comedy director. The film’s success comes from the pairing of Rolf Lassgard, as Ove, with Bahar Pars, as Parvane, Ove’s new neighbour, who interrupts his life as well as his suicide plans. The transformation in Ove is a result of their acting, namely his stubborn reclusiveness combined with her energetic and go-ahead attitude. It is not necessary to hate the company of someone who is miserable.

Tanna: Australia/Vanuatu

Tropical gardens of turquoise-blue corals and lush evergreen vegetation. People who are healthy, happy and fit and eat real food while living in harmony with the natural environment. No cars, no telephone nor internet, no air conditioning, no tourists.

The exotic romance film Tanna by Australian filmmakers Bentley Dean and Martin Butler takes place on an island with the same name. Tanna might look like paradise, but its protagonists are dealing with a serious issue: love and the most deadly consequence of it all, dying of a broken-hearted.

Contact Films for Love in Paradise Contact Films

After 25 years of anthropological research on Tanna, I was invited to public screenings to contextualise and understand the lives of the actors.

My comments about the real-life Tanna always elicited the same response from audiences: “the Dream has been Shattered”. In fact, the tribes featured in the film were among the most filmed as well as the most popular for tourists.

They have the same things as other Tannese: mobile phones, cars, football and movie watching, instant noodles, rice. Many of those who migrate to Port-Vila in Vanuatu’s capital, live in slums, and are security guards.

When they are living on their own island, however, they maintain a relative autonomy. Money isn’t the main concern, so the people of the island are happy to participate in the filming. The end result is a pretty good.

This story set in a remote part of the world has been a worldwide success. Since the film was made, Cyclone Pam caused severe damage to the island.

After the disaster there are no longer any leaves on the trees, no fruit, no food, no traditional houses and no smiling people willing to take part in a film about a tropical paradise.

Toni Erdmann: Germany

German comedy Toni Erdmann is the story of father-daughter relationships. Ines (Sandra Huller), an executive consultant, is driven by her business and the demands she faces. She is a serious person.

Winfried, her father (Peter Simonischek), a retired music professor who is always trying to be funny. He creates a hilarious alter ego Toni Erdmann and follows his daughter as Toni Erdmann to confront her about the absurdity in her professional life.


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