5 Foreign Film Triumphs for Oscar Night

MUSTANG, clockwise from left: Tugba Sunguroglu, Ilayda Akdogan, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Elit Iscan,

This Oscar Sunday, while you’re checking off all the best picture nominees you saw in 2015, we have five more to add to your list: the candidates for best foreign-language film. This category features triumphs from around the world, such as first-time Hungarian director László Nemes’s haunting Holocaust drama, Son of Saul, and the first Colombian film ever nominated, Embrace of the Serpent. And Deniz Gamze Ergüven is one of only two female filmmakers honored this year, for her French masterpiece, Mustang. Clearly there’s much on offer right now, but that’s not where it stops.

Foreign cinema classics have inspired many successful filmmakers working today, but even films coming out in the past five years from other countries have been making influential waves. Christian Petzold’s 2014 German movie Phoenix blew critics away with its heartbreaking story of Holocaust victim Nelly (Nina Hoss) who, following facial reconstruction surgery to repair a gunshot wound to her head, tries to reconnect with her husband after the war even though he doesn’t recognize her. Xavier Dolan’s 2014 French Canadian picture, Mommy, shows the struggle of a working-class mom trying to cope with the difficulties of her ADHD-afflicted son’s violent nature. And The Broken Circle Breakdown, a bluegrass indie classic from Belgium, was a standout, earning an Academy Award nomination in 2012.

The problem? Not enough people in the U.S. are seeing these films. Let’s change that this year! Here’s a rundown of the nominees and where you can see them right now.


Five sisters are coming of age in a conservative Turkish town, where they live with their strict uncle and grandmother. After rumors questioning the girls’ innocence start to spread, the sisters are pulled out of school and put on lockdown in their home. Cut off from the rest of the world, they receive lessons on cooking and sewing, while their grandmother starts to arrange suitable husbands for each. A French entry in this year’s Oscars, the film is based on real experiences director Ergüven had as a young girl in Turkey before she moved to France.

Mustang is now playing in theaters.

A War

A Danish commander in the war in Afghanistan makes a controversial call to save one of his soldiers but kills 11 civilians in the process, leading to a trial that questions the choices he made. The sentence: four years in jail, meaning four more years away from his wife and young children. There hasn’t been a war film in recent history to focus less on combat and more on the humanity of those fighting.

A War is now playing in theaters.

Son of Saul

A prisoner working in a Sonderkommando at Auschwitz is tasked with leading victims to their death in the gas chambers and then gathering their belongings when it’s over. He comes across a young boy he believes to be his son and risks everything to find a rabbi who can give the child a proper burial. The film differs from other Holocaust depictions, as the camera stays tightly framed on the numb facial expressions of star Géza Röhrig’s character, Saul. Most of the movie tracks either his face or the back of his head, while the horrors happening around him largely appear out of focus, leaving audiences to put the pieces together based on the sounds they hear.

Son of Saul is now playing in theaters.


The only Arabic-language film to be nominated this year, Theeb is set in the Ottoman Empire during the 1916 Arab revolt. Bedouin brothers Hussein and Theeb are approached by a British soldier in need of a guide. In keeping with their culture’s custom never to refuse a guest, they agree to help him and so venture into the dangerous desert, where they encounter several hostiles who threaten their lives. Theeb is the first feature from writer-director Naji Abu Nowar, who lives in Jordan.

Theeb is now available On Demand.

Embrace of the Serpent

Based on the journals of real-life Amazonian explorers Theodor Koch-Grünberg and Richard Evans Schultes, Embrace of the Serpent takes place in two time periods: 1909 and 1940. Each man follows the same shaman, Karamakate, the lone survivor of his tribe, who helps the two scientists individually in their searches for the rare, sacred plant yakruna. This is the third film director Ciro Guerra has entered for the Academy Awards but the first to receive a nomination, making it the first Colombian movie to be so honored.

Embrace of the Serpent is now playing in theaters.

Feature Photo: ©Cohen Media Group/Everett Collection