Oscar season is always an opportunity to discover new things to watch; especially those epic movies of the year that win despite not one member of the general public having seen them to determine whether they really are epic or not. As language lovers, we'd like to take a look at the Oscar nominees for this year's Foreign Language Film, and discover what languages we could choose to learn if we want to better understand them. What better way to flex our language skills than with a bit of beautiful cinematography?
A Fantastic Woman
This is a Chilean-produced film, unsurprisingly in Spanish, directed by Sebastian Lelio. It follows the story of Marina, a trans woman who has recently lost her lover Orlando following an aneurysm, and her disputes with his family, who refuse to accept her as she is—or her significance to Orlando. Marina is feisty, and forthright, not afraid to fight for what she wants; this film is a small glimpse into the difficulties faced by the Chilean trans community and is both thought-provoking and beautiful to watch. Prepare to learn some particularly angry and emotive Spanish as you watch Daniela Vega's Marina face off against a family that you'll want to reach through the screen and pummel before turning to wrap Marina up in a hug!
Loveless is a Russian produced and Russian language film, directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev. In this story we follow the search for twelve year old Alyosha, played by Matvey Novikov, who has finally had enough of listening to his parents fighting their way to their impending divorce, and runs away. The warring parents have to be tolerably civil in their search for him, fighting against the bureaucracy that hinders their efforts, and their difficulties give us a glimpse into every day Moscow life in the process. Politics is, of course, in the backdrop, but the Russian we get to hear in Loveless
is so real, and everyday, we could be over-hearing these conversations (and arguments) in our local supermarkets.
Learning a new language? Check out our free placement test to see how your level measures up!
This Lebanese film is an intense look at the power of words. Ziad Doueiri both wrote and directed this Arabic-language film, and unlike Loveless
above, this film is incredibly political. A small dispute over a drainpipe being fixed outside an apartment ends with a racial slur from a Palestinian foreman against a Lebanese Christian, that turns into a civil suit. This in turn is latched on to by a typically over-inflammatory press, and the entire incident becomes a national controversy, reopening wounds—or perhaps just exposing them—and dealing with the relationship of Lebanon with its Palestinian refugees following the Lebanese Civil War.
The Square is the only Oscar nomination for foreign language film that also has some scenes in English, though it is Swedish-produced and predominantly in Swedish. You may already be familiar with The Square
because of a certain scene involving a shirtless Terry Notary standing in the middle of a table in a restaurant, and it's a good example, perhaps, of what to expect. Director Ruben Ostlund is known for his satirical take on the world, and for not necessarily giving his protagonists a typical redemption arc. The Square follows Christian, a smug, self-important director of an important art museum, who learns a thing or two about society as he searches for his stolen wallet. You will learn some Swedish in possibly an entirely new way if you watch this film!
On Body and Soul
On Body and Soul is Hungarian in both language and production, written and directed by Ildiko Enyedi. Now, a romance set in an abattoir might sound odd to you—it sounds odd to all of us—but there's a whimsical, small-town charm to this film as we follow the stumbling stop-start relationship between quality inspector Maria and manager Endre. They are drawn together following a theft; a psychologist is brought into the firm to interview the employees, and these interviews reveal that both Maria and Endre share similar, albeit offbeat dreams. Hungarian may sound like quite a flat, monotone language to some, but the emotion and passion used by the characters in this film tell us that it is anything but!
And in case you're wondering, the 2018 Oscar winner for best foreign language film is A Fantastic Woman; definitely worth a watch!