On the incrementally self-medicating foreign language film process
This may come as a shock to readers accustomed to my usual tone of weary despair when it comes to the category, but I’m about to write in defense of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Reluctant defense, mind you – I’m not going to get either impassioned or affectionate for the award that recognized “Departures” over “The Class,” “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” over “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “Woman in the Dunes” and never even shortlisted “Persona,” “The 400 Blows” or anything by Kieslowski. For reasons both within and beyond their control, it’s a troubled category and always has been. But unlike most of the Academy’s many problem areas, it’s a highly self-aware and self-medicating one, forever adjusting its voting process to address blind spots.
The adjustments sometimes cause blind spots of their own, like a game of cinematic and bureaucratic whack-a-mole, but you can hardly accuse them of shrugging their shoulders. When arcane eligibility bylaws about the required language of national submissions took Michael Haneke’s “Hidden” out of the running, rules were promptly changed the next year; when voters failed to place critics’ darling “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” into the nine-film shortlist in 2007, branch leaders were sufficiently embarrassed to devise the executive-committee safety net that stands today.