Saturday 23rd September 2017,
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FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM OSCAR WATCH: WILL MEXICO BE NOMINATED IN 2018?

BY JAIE LAPLANTE, DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMMING

Oscar season already? Yes – soon headlines will be peppered with news of nations making their official submissions to the Academy Awards, leading up to the Sept. 30th submission deadline. In 2016, the eventual winner, Son of Saul, was announced as Hungary’s submission as early as June 11th!  Now, that’s confidence!!

The road to this year’s Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar on March 2, 2018 will be a long one. Each country has to go through a process of selecting only one film from its eligible output for the year; then a special Oscar selection committee reviews all submissions to come up with a shortlist; that shortlist is eventually whittled down to the final 5 official nominees, and then of course the entire Academy membership votes for the winner. It takes a film with real “staying power” to navigate that kind of epic quest, a description that aptly fits last year’s winner, Iran’s The Salesman (first screened in Miami at our October Miami Film Festival GEMS event!)

I’m particularly curious to see what Mexico will send to the Academy this year. A good bet (and an excellent choice) would be Michel Franco’s April’s Daughter (Las hijas de Abril), which recently won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize from Uma Thurman’s jury at the Cannes Film Festival. The film is about the aspects of our familial impulses that we are powerless to control and that course through the generations. It’s about why we are our parent’s children. It’s about how we might like to rebel against our parents, but how truly we ultimately become them.

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Michel Franco accepting UCR Jury Award in Cannes from Uma Thurman-led jury

Spanish actress Emma Suárez stars as April, a woman who is in the difficult-to-navigate “about 50” age range, a mother who is both physically and emotionally distant to sisters Clara and Valeria, who are living in April’s Puerto Vallarta beach house. Valeria, only 17, is pregnant by her 17-year-old Adonis boyfriend Mateo, and April decides she must return to PV to “help”. Before long, the historic dynamics between mother and daughters begin to reveal themselves, and the drama unfolds from there. (In a curious choice, the English-language title refers to only a singular daughter, while the Spanish title refers to plural daughters.)

Suárez is having an amazing year. In February, she won the Best Actress Goya from the Spanish Academy for her performance in Pedro Almodovar’s Julieta. In April’s Daughter, she stands alongside Isabelle Huppert’s recent fearless performance in Elle as a testament to the brave, daring and rewarding choices of European actresses to take on roles that their American counterparts would not risk.

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Emma Suárez in April’s Daughter

Michel Franco’s aesthetic is austere and uncompromising. Nothing is telegraphed in his films; his camera is implacable, refusing easy shorthand or moralistic editorializing. The bewildering behavior of human beings is what interests him, especially that strange human capacity to make choices that will knowingly lead to unhappiness, pain or further suffering – yet choices that seem impossible to resist. Franco’s style is the opposite of detached – it’s an intensely invested style. This is his fourth scripted film (both his second, After Lucia, and his third, Chronic, were official selections of Miami Film Festival) and like his previous films, the narrative of April’s Daughter drives mercilessly and deliberately on towards a breathless conclusion of unquestionable logic. Yet April’s Daughter (perhaps as it is Franco’s first without a lead male character) is less power-driven than the other films. It’s almost stately; it’s got a more solemn tone, as if to say its hard-won wisdom is ageless and somehow unchangeable.

Mexico selected the controversial After Lucia to submit to the Oscars in 2012; April’s Daughter won’t be as polarizing, and would have a very real shot at winning Mexico’s ninth nomination in this category.  It was released last week in Mexico, and plans for north of the border are still coming together. Let’s see what happens! April’s Daughter is a film with real staying power – you think about it weeks and months after you’ve seen it – and that’s the definition of a winner.

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