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10 new foreign language films creating a buzz at the Oscars 2021

With awards season on the horizon, these are the international films tipped to be this year’s main contenders

While East Asian films are being particularly closely watched thanks to the success of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite last year, directors from around the world have released a strong slate of films to compete at this year’s awards season. From a heart-wrenching tale of Iranian child labourers to a Danish tragicomedy starring Mads Mikkelsen, entries for the Oscars Best International Film award are wide-ranging. As we wait for the final nominations to be announced, these are the foreign language films that critics are betting on this year.

IRAN
Sun Children

From prolific director Majid Majidi comes this heart-wrenching story of a group of young friends and petty criminals who set out to dig up hidden treasure they believe to be under the Sun School, a charitable organisation set up to educate street kids. Dedicated to “the 152m children forced into child labour,” most of the children in the cast were found on the streets of Tehran.  But it’s the film’s lead, 12-year-old newcomer Roohollah Zamani, that anchors the story with his powerful depiction of the group’s leader, Ali — in fact, his performance earned him the Marcello Mastroianni Award at last year’s Venice Film Festival. 

Coming 2021

GUATEMALA
La Llorona

First screened at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, this supernatural thriller uses a centuries-old myth of ghosts to tackle the horrors of the genocide of native people in Guatemala. The film follows Guatemalan dictator Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz), who was imprisoned for organising the genocide of native Mayans in the 1980s, only to be released decades later. Rejected and despised by his community, Monteverde is fully dependent on the support of his loyal wife. But when a new domestic worker Alma (María Mercedes Coroy) arrives, Monteverde finds he can no longer outrun the ghosts of his past. 

amazon.com

MOROCCO
The Unknown Saint

Moroccan writer-director Alaa Eddine Aljem’s droll debut has left many critics tipping him as the new exciting talent to watch. After burying a pile of loot at the top of a hill, a thief returns years later to find that the site has been turned into a shrine to an “unknown site” that visitors believe has mystical healing powers. A new village has even been set up nearby to welcome pilgrims to the shrine. As the thief (played by Younes Bouab) and his former accomplice Ahmed the Brain (Salah Bensalah) try to find a way to break into the shrine, they find themselves constantly foiled by the devoted villagers. Elegantly shot and highly entertaining, this timely fable of science versus belief and fact versus fiction shouldn’t be overlooked.

Coming 2021

ITALY
The Life Ahead

Iconic Italian screen siren Sophia Loren returns to the big screen in this emotional Italian drama about a Holocaust survivor and former sex worker who takes in an orphaned Senegalese street kid. Directed by Loren’s son Edoardo Ponti, the adaptation of the novel by Romain Gary follows the evolving relationship of Madame Rosa (Loren) and Momo (played by the enigmatic newcomer Ibrahima Gueye), as each learns to overcome their pride and guardedness to let the other in. While the plot is a little predictable and veers into the overly sentimental at some points, Loren and Gueye’s performances are captivating and beautifully captured. 

netflix.com

CZECH REPUBLIC
Charlatan

In today’s culture of wellness obsession, director Agnieszka Holland’s biopic about famous 20th century Czech healer Jan Mikolášek is a timely tale of a devotion to plant-based remedies. The film charts the entire life of Mikolášek, played chiefly by Ivan Trojan, with the younger years depicted by his son, Josef Trojan. From his development of herbal remedies, to his curing the ailments of poor villagers as well as famous names such as the Czechoslovak President, Antonín Zápotocký, Holland’s film offers both a respectful tribute to and a questioning examination of the healer’s practices. 

Coming 2021

MEXICO
I'm No Longer Here

This tender and well-considered musical drama by writer -director Fernando Frías de la Parra shares the story of a teen from Monterrey, Mexico who is forced to move to Queens, New York after a misunderstanding with a local cartel. Told with a soundtrack of cumbia-inspired music, the film jumps between the protagonist, Ulises’s (Juan Daniel García) experiences in Mexico, where he was a leader thanks to his prominence in a local dance crew, and the United States, where he is left to start from scratch. A thoughtful and unique look at the immigrant experience, the musical has plenty of heart, and the performance of I’m No Longer Here is a particularly moving depiction of a young boy’s homesickness.

netflix.com

FRANCE
Two of Us

Following its original debut at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, Two of Us is getting a fresh look thanks to its Oscar’s submission. Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevallier star in this gripping drama about two neighbours who’ve secretly been lovers for years, only to have their relationship rocked by a perceived betrayal and a sudden crisis. Director Filippo Meneghetti expertly navigates the film from warm love story to complex drama, with surprising moments of both humour and thriller woven in. At its core, Two of Us is a rare and beautifully told story of an older LGTBQ+ couple negotiating societal pressures concerning both age and sexuality. 

Coming 2021

SWITZERLAND
My Little Sister

This intimate domestic drama from Swiss writers and directors Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond traces the many consequences of a family member’s cancer diagnosis. At the centre of the tale are twins Lisa (Nina Hoss), a talented Berlin playwright, and Sven (Lars Eidinger), an acclaimed theatre actor. When Sven is diagnosed with leukemia, Lisa immediately gives up writing and strives to get Sven to perform again, believing that his art may have the power to help heal him, no matter what the rest of their family think. Devoid of any self-pity and full of heart, this modest film packs an unexpected punch. 

Coming 2021

DEMARK
Another Round

Mads Mikkelsen of Casino Royale villain fame takes a comedic turn in the latest film from Danish director Thomas Vinterberg. The tragicomedy follows four male school teachers who decide to see if drinking every day will drag them out of their midlife boredom. Far from the cartoonishness of other alcohol-fuelled films like The Hangover, Another Round is an empathetic look at four men’s experiment with shaking up their lives. In an effort to inspire more of a Winston Churchill drinking style than a Stanley Kowalski one, their endeavour has fixed parameters, including a strict 8pm curfew, and watching each of them pushing at those boundaries adds an exciting rush of adrenaline to the events.

Coming 2021

IVORY COAST
Night of the Kings

The winner of the Amplify Voices award at 2020’s Toronto International Film Festival, Night of the Kings is a complex and captivating mix of magical realism and traditional storytelling. Director Philippe Lacôte’s film takes place in an Ivory Coast prison — based on the same one in which Lacôte’s own mother spent time — where a young pickpocket (Bakary Koné) is tasked with entertaining the fellow prisons with an enthralling tale, opting to spin an origin tale for the town’s legendary gangster, Zama King. Jumping between the storyteller’s imagination and the intensity of the prison, this layered tale is an exciting ambassador for Ivory Coast cinema to Western audiences. 

Coming 2021

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