Of the five films nominated for the Academy Awards's Best Foreign Language Film, none has won either a BAFTA in Britain or a Golden Globe in the United States. So the Oscar field is wide open.
South Pacific Romeo and Juliet
The Australian entry, Tanna, tells a Romeo-and-Juliet style story set on a South Pacific Island. The film’s Australian director, Bentley Dean, said he had wanted to go back to Tanna to make a movie ever since he went there more than 10 years ago to make a documentary.
"I had a brief window of opportunity between projects and I convinced my wife to come with me, with my two small children and try and make a film by collaborating with the local community," Dean said. "We connected with the tribes over there and went and visited and said, 'What do you think? Do you want to make a film together?' and they said yes." he added.
Danish Retelling of WWII Story
Land of Mine recounts the true story of teenaged German prisoners of war who were made to clear mines from the coasts of Denmark after World War II. Martin Zandvliet, who directed the film, said it caused a lot of soul searching in Denmark.
“It brought out a lot of debate," Zandvliet said. "The historians came out of their holes so to speak, and it brought out a big debate in the media whether it was right to treat the Germans like this or whether it was facts or whether it was fiction or whether I had fictionalized it too much or whether all these things – that is interesting for a movie.”
Swedish Novel Becomes a Film
Sweden's A Man Called Ove tells the story of a disagreeable old man who keeps trying to hang himself so that he can be reunited with his late wife. But when a young Iranian woman moves into his neighborhood, his perspective changes.
The film is based on the novel by Fredrik Backman. Actor Rolf Lassgard, who plays Ove, says the novel helped him make choices for the film.
"A book is much larger than a film, you have one hour and 45 minutes but I have shot films from several books and I am not afraid of the book," he said. "Of course you could feel the pressure but pressure is something good to have on you. I used the book as a tool as an actor because you can find a lot of good stuff that you can use in a shoot," he said.
Cannes Winner from Germany
Germany’s Toni Erdmann is a father-daughter comedy that also pokes fun at sexism, greed, and family relationships. The film won the FIPRESCI prize given by critics at the Cannes Film Festival. Director Maren Ade says she has been almost overwhelmed by the film’s success.
"It was a lot of work, the success, but it's nice and I enjoy that the film is released in so many countries," Ade said. "It's really something that you dream of when you do a film. It's what you do the film for that it has its own second life with the audience. It's a crazy time and the year's almost gone now. I don't know."
Trump Travel Ban Hits Iranian Oscar Nominee
Iran’s entry is The Salesman from director Asghar Farhadi. It tells the story of an Iranian theater couple whose lives are turned upside down when the wife is attacked in their apartment.
Farhadi, whose film A Separation won the best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2012, will not be attending the Oscars because of the Trump administration’s ban on travel from Iran and six other Muslim majority countries. Though the ban has been temporarily overturned in U.S. courts, the president has announced plans to issue a new order soon.