2021 Oscars: International film nominees highlight humanity’s darker side

23 April 2021 - 14:04 By Reuters
Stories of genocide, corruption and bullying are among the entries from five countries. Stock photo.
Stories of genocide, corruption and bullying are among the entries from five countries. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Kia Cheng Boon

Dramatic portrayals of people’s cruelty towards others are a theme in this year’s best international feature film Oscar race, with stories of genocide, corruption and bullying among entries from five countries that include two first-time nominees.

Denmark’s comedy-drama Another Round is the outlier, with its tale of teachers who agree to drink a certain amount of alcohol every day in the hope it will get them out of a middle-age rut.

Another Round is seen as the front-runner to take the Oscar on Sunday, given that its director Thomas Vinterberg, a co-founder of the Danish “Dogme 95” movement of low-budget naturalistic filmmaking, also snagged a surprise best director nod.

Vinterberg had his own tragedy to cope with when his teenage daughter died in a traffic accident when filming began. Completing the movie became a way to honour her, said star Mads Mikkelsen.

“It is a film about reclaiming your life. It is never too late,” Mikkelsen said.

This year’s other entries are dark, but also convey hopeful messages.

Romania scored its first-ever Academy Award nomination with Collective, about the aftermath of a deadly nightclub fire. Collective is also competing in the best documentary field.

Collective follows journalist Catalin Tolontan, whose investigations revealed that badly burnt victims were treated in improper hospital conditions, with inadequate cleaning products linked to many deaths.

Romanian director Alexander Nanau said the double nominations mean the 2015 fire and subsequent health-care scandal “will not be forgotten”.

Bosnian war drama Quo Vadis, Aida?, about a woman’s desperate effort to save her husband and sons during the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, would be the second Bosnian film to take home an Oscar after No Man’s Land in 2002. The film, directed by Jasmila Zbanic, centres on Aida, a translator for the UN when the Bosnian Serb army takes over a town during the Bosnian war. (“Quo vadis” is a Latin phrase meaning “Where are you going?”)

“This film was not made to divide and confront people but the opposite — to understand each other better,” said Zbanic.

The Man Who Sold His Skin, the first Tunisian film to be nominated for an Academy Award, is a satirical drama about a Syrian refugee who agrees to become a living artwork in the hope of getting a European visa.

Hong Kong’s entry Better Days, about a bullied high school student facing daunting college entry exams, was a major draw at the Chinese box office in 2019, grossing $230m.

Hong Kong authorities have decided not to broadcast the Oscars ceremony on television for the first time since 1969 in a move which activists have linked to the nomination of another film, the documentary Do Not Split, about the city's 2019 democracy protests.

Better Days, adapted from a popular novel, stars Zhou Dongyu as a high school girl tormented by peers who befriends a young criminal played by pop music star Jackson Yee.

“The film carries a very positive message and [bullying is] something that needs to be discussed,” said director Derek Tsang.