Trump Talking Point Off-Trend for Film Industry

There's been a lot of nationalistic, if not xenophobic, talk from presidential candidates lately, and it's gotten me thinking (maybe to improve my own mood) about nationality in movies.

Much like in the real world, where global affairs and mass migrations are muddling national borders, the artificial lines of "countries" are fast disappearing in the global film industry.

It's easy to talk about "American" movies or "Italian" cinema, but the reality of the industry is something different. Scratch the surface of any Hollywood blockbuster and you're likely to find British or Australian actors or directors.

The trend is even more observable in smaller industries, where stories as well as casts, crews and financing are pieced together from multiple countries, out of economic need, creative inspiration or both.

The 81 submissions for this year's foreign-language Oscar, arguably the best platform for international cinema in the US, offer some interesting cases.

"Mustang," considered an Oscar frontrunner (pun intended), is a Turkish-language film set in Turkey by a Turkish-born director... and representing France. Ireland's submission "Viva" is filmed in Spanish and set in Cuba. I'd venture a guess that the majority of submissions from around the world are co-productions between two countries or more.

"Each year we have more movies where it's kind of hard to assign a home or a nationality," the Chairman of the Academy's Foreign Language Film Award Committee, Mark Johnson, admitted to The Wrap.

"There's virtually no movie out there now that isn't made internationally," he told Screen International.

"Ida"

Last year, winning director Pawel Pawlikowski took the foreign-language Oscar home to Poland, though his film "Ida" (available on Netflix) was a four-country co-production between Poland, Denmark, France and the UK.

Set in 1962, the minimalist black and white film opens on a young nun raised in an austere convent who is told she must go out and meet her only living relative before she can take her vows.

​​Ida's journey quickly becomes one of self-discovery, if not innocence lost, when her aunt takes her to the village where her parents, who it turns out were Jewish, were murdered. While Ida's story is just starting to unfold, her aunt's seems to be slowly staggering to its end.

Seeking solace from the past in alcohol and random liaisons, her aunt refers to the pair as the "saint" and the "slut." But each clearly has lessons to learn from the other, and the two neatly embody the generations on either side of the war.

In what evolves into a kind of road movie, Ida finds herself at a crossroads, forced to choose between the life of a nun and a world of possibilities outside the convent. When they pick up a handsome saxophonist on the road, those choices become even more pressing. How will she know what she's sacrificing if she has no experiences, her aunt prods?

This movie is constructed of moments, details, weighty glances, where the patience of the camera and the depth of the acting are crucial.

Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal's stunning black and white imagery finds artistic, off-center compositions for most every shot, and even on the small screen this film festival favorite is a beauty.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch...​​

No, it's not another joke about Trump's hair.

It's the enigmatic title of Sweden's contender for this year's foreign-language Oscar short-list. Case in point, "A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence" is a four-country co-production between Sweden, Germany, Norway and France.

But the movie, already available on Netflix in the US, is undeniably Swedish, which may ultimately limit its appeal for Academy voters.

Its absurdist humor and existential angst are neither laugh-out-loud nor cry-in-your-popcorn material, and it's not for every audience (hence one user comment on IMDb: "Christ, this bored me to tears").

Sure, there's plenty to turn away the casual weekend viewer: an intentionally languid pace, a gloomy yellow-grey palette, abstruse (for non-Swedes) historical references, oddball staging and the occasional breaking of the 'fourth wall.'

But for hardier cinephiles, there's also much to chuckle about and plenty to ponder over in this third installment of veteran director Roy Andersson's trilogy on "being a human being."​​

I propose that you, dear viewer, are the proverbial pigeon sitting on the branch, watching a series of seemingly unrelated vignettes, peering into moments of random lives and reflecting on the intrinsic flaws of humankind, the way we (mis)treat each other, the brutish speed with which our time together passes.

Two drab, bickering salesmen hocking novelty items -- "We want to help people have fun," they pitch, poker-faced -- tie the vignettes together, sort of.

So do repeated platitudes on lifeless long-distance phone calls, sort of. And pigeons cooing off-screen, sort of.

It's not hard to find meaning everywhere in this funny-yet-bleak picture. Like in life.

 

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