Indie studios IFC Films and Neon are facing off with the hopes of one of their films being selected as France’s official submission to the Oscars for the international feature film prize.
Neon aims to position Palme d’Or winner “Anatomy of a Fall” as the best option for the country. IFC is making its case for “The Taste of Things” from French-Vietnamese filmmaker Trần Anh Hùn, who won the director prize at Cannes. Both films have eerily similar credentials as they seek to represent the Gallic state at the 95th annual Academy Awards.
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The courtroom drama “Anatomy” was announced as part of the Telluride program, where all four of its screenings were sold out, with dozens of patrons being turned away. “Taste” was not part of the festival’s initial slate announcement. It was one of the surprise TBA screenings that Telluride tends to program yearly (others this year included Sony Classics’ animated film “They Shot the Piano Player”).
“Taste” is a film made for “foodies.” It played to two packed houses on Saturday and Sunday. Both movies are headed to more fests including Toronto, the New York Film Festival and other planned stops. The Centre National de la cinématographie, affiliated with the French Ministry of Culture, will decide on France’s Oscar submission. Some new and recognizable names are among the committee tasked with steering the process, including former Lionsgate executive Patrick Wachsberger and composer Alexandre Desplat, a two-time Oscar winner.
And here lies a nation’s dilemma.
Cannes is one of the most prestigious festivals in the world, where the Palme d’Or has carried many films to awards glory like Bong Joon-ho’s best picture winner “Parasite” (2019), which was also distributed by Neon.
In 2021, France opted for Neon’s high-octane car-mutation thriller “Titane” by Julia Ducournau, who became the first woman director to win the Palme solo (when Jane Campion won for “The Piano” in 1993, she tied with Chen Kaige). With many critics acknowledging it was a “hard sell” for Oscar voters, many rooted that year for IFC’s abortion drama “Happening” from Audrey Diwan to be the country’s selection.
When you’re a country facing scrutiny over gender equality in many sectors, including the film and TV arenas, how could you not choose the first female Palme winner for a solo effort? But “Titane” failed to make the international feature film shortlist of 15 films. “Happening” mounted its own awards campaign around its U.S. release for the 2022 season but was shut out by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters.
France has submitted 67 films for Oscar consideration going back to the category’s inception (as a foreign film) in 1956. Of those films, 38 have achieved Oscar nominations, the most of any country. France has won nine times, second to Italy’s 11. But France has been suffering through a 30-year drought when it comes to bringing home the gold. France hasn’t won the statuette since “Indochine” (1992), and it’s clear that national hopes are high that the 2023 race may finally be the year.
The French committee faces a complicated decision, with each film having pros and cons in its ability to compete in the Oscar heat. In addition, with new Academy Awards competition rules instituted this year, now stipulating the opt-in member selection committees must comprise at least 50% filmmakers (artists and/or craftspeople), there will be “X-factors” affecting the process this year for sure.
“Anatomy” is getting the full FYC push from Neon in categories beyond international feature. The distributor aims to grab recognition for Triet for director and original screenplay, along with a mention for lead actress Sandra Hüller. This year, Hüller has dual contenders in the international feature race as the star of A24’s “The Zone of Interest,” the frontrunner for the U.K.
“Anatomy” is a strong piece of filmmaking that I suspect, at minimum, will find Hüller in the mix for her first Oscar nom. She seems to be a quintessential future winner of NYFCC and LAFCA. I’m curious to read how much of the film is not in English. Academy rules state in order to be eligible, at least 50% of a film’s dialogue must be spoken in a language other than English. While “Anatomy” clears the mark (Neon confirms it’s 59% in French), I wonder if the language factor will affect voters.
With “Taste,” it has the familiarity of one of the country’s most revered actress, Oscar-winner Juliette Binoche, delivering another standout performance. IFC vows to seek nominations in all eligible categories. It could find its way into the discussion for adapted screenplay and obviously for director, following Trần Anh Hùn’s win at Cannes. If nominated for best picture, it would be IFC’s first since “Boyhood” (2014). The film is also co-distributed by Sapan Studio.
Director Anh Hùng was born in South Vietnam. In 1975, he immigrated to France at the age of 12, following the fall of Saigon and the end of Vietnam’s civil war. Regarding Oscar submissions, France has leaned heavily toward French-born filmmakers. The last non-French-born director behind international feature submissions was Paul Verhoeven (2016’s “Elle”). It didn’t get nominated.
Ask the strategist behind campaigns for “Anatomy” and “Taste,” and both will say their movie is the “safer” and “stronger” title to go the distance to a win. Truth is, it will be a very dynamic and strong year yet again. Films like Japan’s “Perfect Days” and Finland’s “Fallen Leaves,” also screened at Cannes and Telluride, are considered viable contenders.
France will announce its five-film shortlist this week. It’s expected to include Johnny Depp’s comeback movie “Jeanne du Barry,” directed by Maiwenn.
Academy members choose to opt-in to watch and vote for the international feature submission. Preliminary voting for the international feature shortlist begins in December, with 15 films being announced before the nomination voting in January.
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