How to reach hearts and minds of the voters for the best foreign language film at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences? The 14th Palm Springs International Film Festivals, as in past years, provided an outstanding selection of 45 films – out of a total of 54 entries – of countries which submit their productions in the hope of getting a golden Oscar statuette next March 23rd. Theoretically, the contenders should be the “best film of the year” of each country, but it may not always be the case. The supposed best film can often be exchanged for a production which, subjectively, would have more impact on the electors. To judge from the majority of the films exhibited at the Palm Springs Festival, the difficult and unpredictable task of winning an Oscar rests mainly on children’s shoulders and their acting abilities.
Quite an impressive number of productions, from the most diverse countries, cultures, cinematic styles and production budgets had children as main characters or as key figures in the plot. Just to name a few: Abouna, from Chad, The Clay Bird, from Bangladesh, Eldra, from the United Kingdom (Wales), Hold my Heart, from Norway, The Invisible Children, from Colombia, Nowhere in Africa, from Germany, The Magic Box, from Tunisia, City of God, from Brazil – all of them had children as a decisive element in the films, giving excellent performances.
The presence of teenagers was also impressive – and we can cite Lilya 4-ever from Sweden, I am Taraneh 15 from Iran and Broken Wings, from Israel as some examples. Of course, there was also the case of Italy, in which a 50-year-old actor – Roberto Benigni, tried to play a wooden boy in Pinocchio, but that was an extreme case of self-indulgence that shouldn¹t be taken seriously in the children’s film category. It may not be a coincidence that so many countries chose the pains of childhood and of growing up as the main theme of films that have put themselves forward for an Oscar. Films like Central Station (Walter Salles, Brazil), and La Vita è bella (Roberto Benigni, now the Pinocchio kid), were recent examples of foreign language films that were highly successful in the international market, independent of their qualities or flaws. The high incidence of children in the 2003 selection may be an indication that for a great part of the committee choices for the Oscar around the world, children on the screen would be an important asset to conquer academic members, softening their hearts and minds. The verdict will come in two parts: the first, on February 11, when the 5 nominees will be chosen. The second, on the March 23 – when the winner will be known. Until then, let the children play.
© FIPRESCI 2003