Oscar’s Foreign Language Contenders 2019

Only three of this year’s Oscar longlist for best foreign language film have made it to Princeton so far, at least that I’ve seen: The Guilty, Cold War, and Roma.

My favorite so far is the riveting Danish thriller, The Guilty. Alas, it didn’t make the final list of nominees, so it may be hard to catch.

Nevertheless, don’t miss a chance to see Gustav Möller’s The Guilty, which took home the Sundance World Cinema Audience Award (trailer). Danish policeman Asger Holm is assigned to answering emergency calls until he goes to court on some unspecified matter. He deals rather cavalierly with a man who calls complaining that a woman stole his laptop and wallet, once Asger figures out the man is calling from the red-light district and the woman was an Eastern European prostitute. But then the calls turn serious and he works desperately to rescue a kidnapped woman. You can’t take your eyes off him, and the camera almost never does. You hear what he hears and know what he knows. As he frantically tries to figure out how to rescue her, the suspense is almost unbearable. Jacob Cedergren as Asger is brilliant.
Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating: 99%; audiences: 90%.

The Polish nominee is Cannes Best Director Pawel Pawlikowski’s romance Cold War (trailer), which begins in the 1950s. The romance is doomed, though, because Zula, played by Joanna Kulig in a breakout role, can’t decide what she wants. Scenes of the communist-sponsored cultural performance troop, in which the peasant Zula’s lovely singing voice is discovered, are energetic and entertaining. She begins an on-again, off-again affair with the troop’s sophisticated conductor, Wiktor (played by Tomasz Kot), that over the next few decades is mostly off, to the regret of them both. Full of great music of many types and shot in lovely, deep black and white.
Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating: 92%; audiences 84%.

The other nominees are two films of a type Indie-Wire calls “poverty-row melodramas,” Hirozaku Kore-eda’s Shoplifters (Japan), winner of Cannes’ Palme d’Or, and Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum (Lebanon) which won the Cannes Jury Prize. In addition, there’s Roma (Mexico), sweet, but not great, in my opinion, and Never Look Away (Germany) from previous Oscar-winner Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, in which the Nazis take on “degenerate art.” You know, Picasso, Mondrian, Kandinsky, Paul Klee and their ilk. That one’s on the “coming soon” board.


David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Broadchurch

David Tennant & Olivia Colman

The engaging ITV crime drama Broadchurch (trailer) (available on Netflix) has run for two eight-episode seasons, released in 2013 and 2015, with a third season filming this summer for release in 2017. It follows the investigation of the mysterious death of an 11-year-old boy in his small seaside town. Soon all the residents are looking differently at people they’ve known for decades. Secrets emerge; journalists are sleazy; people want revenge; and the coppers make mistakes.

The action in Broadchurch takes place in Dorset, in Southwest England, and the investigation is led by police detectives Alec Hardy (played by David Tennant) and Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman). Colman is all over screens big and small this year (The Night Manager, The Lobster). A prize to you if you can catch everything Tennant says, between his character’s thick accent and habit of swallowing his words.

A Cast That Really Supports

All the acting is first-rate, especially that of the detectives and the dead boy’s parents, played by Jodie Whittaker and Andrew Buchan. The story keeps you guessing as to the culprit, revealed at the end of season one. Season two is the trial and introduces some additional fine acting, notably Marianne Jean-Baptiste as the defense attorney. You may remember her as Viv in the U.S. tv series, Without a Trace. She has a severe new hairstyle that gives her a different look, but the voice is unmistakable. Also in season two is Charlotte Rampling as the prosecuting attorney and James D’Arcy as a possible badguy in a previous case that haunts DI Hardy. I remember him fondly as 1st Lt. Tom Pullings in Master and Commander, way back in 2003.

Special mention should be made of the haunting Broadchurch music from Ólafur Arnalds (soundclip), an Icelandic composer and musician, which adds immeasurably to the atmosphere.

U.S. Version Fails

Fox TV created a U.S. version of the series, set in the Pacific Northwest, in a similar seaside town. Called Gracepoint, the series’s most interesting aspect is that David Tennant crossed the Atlantic and the North American continent to reprise his role as the lead detective. In this version he is called Det. Emmett Carver. I wasted no time finding a clip from the show to hear him speak American. He inhabits the other role so completely, the effect was startling! Nick Nolte also appears, as does Michael Peña (The Martian). Alas, the Fox version didn’t measure up and was cancelled after one season of low ratings.


Broadchurch won many accolades from critics as well as a number of awards. In series one, Olivia Colman won a Best Actress award from the British Academy of Film & Television Arts (BAFTA) and the program received seven BAFTA nominations altogether, including one for Best Original Television Music.

Broadchurch enjoyed a huge audience in the U.K., but not in the United States when it played on BBC America or via streaming. Chances are then that you haven’t seen it, and if you like a compelling crime drama (minus Hollywood’s excessive gore), you might enjoy it!

Awaiting series 3.