Pete Hammond

Brazil’s Foreign Language Entry Causes Election Controversy

Producer Mark Johnson is head of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Foreign Language committee and tells me his panel will meet next Tuesday to deal with any eligibility problems that may arise from the final list of official submissions of entries due October 1st from individual countries. Then the Academy will begin a two-tiered system of screenings of the contenders in mid-October and won’t finish until shortly before nominations are announced on January 25th. But controversy is already swirling around Italy’s entry, not because of what the country chose but what it didn’t. Snubbed was Magnolia’s Italian melodrama I Am Love starring Oscar winner Tilda Swinton which is one of the year’s higher profile foreign language films grossing nearly $5 million in the U.S. alone. It’s also generating plenty of awards buzz again for Swinton’s work in which the Scottish actress speaks in Italian with a Russian accent –- no mean feat.

Italy instead went with La Prima Cosa Bella (The First Beautiful Thing), a local hit family drama that won good critical notice but doesn’t have nearly the international profile of the Swinton flick. Magnolia’s President Eamonn Bowles, while admitting he hasn’t seen the film that was chosen, says he is outraged by the oversight of his contender. “Every year, there’s something frustrating, but this is a particularly galling one. To be snubbed is really amazing. Considering the level of this film I think any reasonable person would assume it would be the nomination, but obviously there are other considerations among the Italian constituency,” he tells me.

Bowles said Magnolia had people lobbying for the film in Italy but to no avail. Despite this setback, he says Magnolia plans to aggressively campaign I Am Love for Best Actress and even Best Picture. He also points out the Art Direction, Cinematography, Costumes and Music as award-worthy too. It’s also obviously eligible for Golden Globes and Critics awards Still he’s fuming.  “I think it’s a situation the Academy should look into. We are held hostage by political situations in other countries for judging aesthetic work. Having one country nominating just one film every year is not the ideal situation.”

Among the foreign language film entries so far are high profile Cannes winners — including Best Actor Javier Bardem starrer Biutiful which director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu shot entirely in Spain but has been entered by his home country of Mexico; and the Grand Prize winner Of Gods And Men from France; and Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives from Thailand.

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