As an enthusiastic film and Oscars fan, I have attempted nothing less than to predict the odds for Ildikó Enyedi’s On Body and Soul for the Academy Awards in the category of Best Foreign Language Film, compared to other nominees.
My top contenders, besides Enyedi’s film, are Chile’s entry, Sebastian Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman, and the Swedish The Square, directed by Ruben Östlund; however, Oscar winners are always hard to predict and Lebanon’s first entry, The Insult, and Russia’s Loveless are also really strong films. So, here, then are the factors that may affect why Hungary may – or may not – win its third consecutive Academy Award this Sunday.
Women rights, #metoo and #TimesUp vs LGBTQ
2018 is the year of women. Last year, after sexual abuse scandals and the hashtag #metoo blew up on social media sites with millions of hashtags on Twitter and Facebook and countless stories from women – and men – of their abusers, including Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and actor Kevin Spacey, this year has already seen its new movement, #TimesUp, with a similar result. Time’s Up has been supported by some of Holywood’s most prominent women’s rights advocates, including Oprah, Eva Longoria, Emma Watson, Natalie Portman, Reese Witherspoon and many others, and at the year’s first major Hollywood event, the Golden Globes in January – and later at the BAFTAs in the UK – a whole profession, males and females, stood together and wore black on the red carpet, in support of sexual harassment victims, women’s rights in every other profession, and a greater inclusion of female talent both at award ceremonies and behind the camera.
After Natalie Portman’s vocal criticism of the Foreign Press Association, when presenting the Best Director Award at the Golden Globes, for not nominating any women, it is not surprising that several categories for this year’s Academy Awards have women nominees, including Best Director (Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird), only the fifth woman in 90 years to be nominated in the category, as well as the first ever female nominee for Best Cinematographer (Rachel Morrison for Mudbound). So, after this rather lengthy introduction, I think that from this point of view, Enyedi, as the only woman among the directors nominated for the best foreign language film, has a distinct advantage in her quest to bring home the golden statuette on Sunday.
However, there’s another important, and underrepresented movement in Hollywood, which in the last couple of years finally made its way into award ceremonies – LGBTQ inclusion. After last year’s surprising Best Picture win of Moonlight, we can surely say that the Academy continues to realize the topic’s importance, as this year, they have included more than one LGBTQ themed films. For one, my personal favorite, Call Me By Your Name, has been nominated in three categories. But the foreign language film category also has a film that fits – and in my opinion will win. A Fantastic Woman examines gender identity and focuses on a transgender singer, who – after the death of his lover – is misgendered, accused of murder and harassed. Another supporting argument for A Fantastic Woman: the leading actress of the film, Daniela Vega, who herself is also transgender, is presenting an award – as a foreigner among the other English speaking presenters, and the first ever transgender actress to present an award. The question is, how much can the Academy leave its comfort zone after the so-called “Moonlight effect” and award a film about gender identity – but in case Gerta Gerwig doesn’t win the “big” category with Lady Bird, I think Enyedi stands a great chance as well.
Berlinale’s Golden Bear vs Palme d’Or in Cannes
If we look at the previous prizes and nominations of each films, we can see that – not surprisingly – all candidates bagged a number of prestigious awards at recognized international film festivals. In this aspect, The Square is the frontrunner – besides the Oscar nomination, it was nominated for a Golden Globe in the same category, and has won six European Film Awards, including Best European Film, not to mention the most important, the top prize of the Cannes Film Festival, the Palme d’Or. The Russian film Loveless is also a strong competition for Enyedi, with its win in the Cannes Jury Prize, two European Film Awards, Russia’s Golden Eagle Award and the Los Angeles Film Critics for Best Foreign Film besides its Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations.
On Body and Soul also received important awards: it won the Grand Prix of the Berlinale last year, as well as the top prize at the Sydney Film Festival and one European Film Award for Best Actress (Alexandra Borbély). However, if we take Nemes Jeles’s Son of Saul as basis and its top prize, the Palme d’Or from Cannes, such a precedent would seem to favor the most recent Cannes winner, The Square.
Streaming Company vs Traditional Theatrical Distributor
It is important to mention the distributors of the nominated films as well. On Body and Soul is the only film out of the five Foreign Language Oscar nominees which is distributed by a streaming company, Netflix; this makes it more likely that Enyedi’s film will have the largest potential viewing audience. However, even though the 8000 members of the academy will certainly be more likely to view the Hungarian movie before the votes, and hopefully more people will choose it, in this regard Hollywood is slightly old-fashioned: the Academy still has not quite figured out how to approach streaming sites and their original and distributed films. In Cannes, even head of the jury, director Pedro Almodóvar talked about Netflix films and the potential risk they pose on theatrical displays:
I personally don’t perceive the Palme d’Or [should be] given to a film that is then not seen on the big screen, All this doesn’t mean that I am not open or celebrate new technologies and opportunities, but [as long as] I’m alive I’ll be fighting for the capacity of hypnosis of the large screen for the viewer. (Vanity Fair)
The other films are displayed on the “big screen” first: A Fantastic Woman is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, The Square by Magnolia Pictures, while the Lebanese The Insult is by Cohen Media Group, distributor of last year’s Foreign-Language winner, The Salesman.
Animal rights vs politics and satirical social commentary
Enyedi’s film is a beautiful drama about an unusual love story, and as such did not draw the same level of controversy as some of the the other nominees, although critics said the setting of the film – a slaughterhouse – was upsetting for some of the audience. They said that the climax of the film, the penultimate scene – which I do not want to spoil for those who haven’t seen it yet – was shocking for some people, and there were some who even left the screenings. Anikó Návai, Hungary’s Hollywood correspondent, has argued in Hungarian talkshow Mokka that animal activists may also find some parts offensive, mainly the slaughter of the animals.
The Square is set in a museum, where the manager of the museum’s PR team goes too far with publicity plans to make buzz around an installation, sparking a public uproar and exposing the hypocrisy of the media. Critics said that, despite the film’s popularity in Europe, US audiences and film critics were not as amused by it; they were confused by the absurd humor, satirical social commentary, and humorous parts of the film. Additionally, satirical films tend not to do particularly well at the Oscars – let’s just say, not everyone likes to be mocked (not to mention that the setting is the world of artists).
Likewise, the Russian Loveless courts controversy in that it criticizes Putyin’s Russian society through the struggle of a family to find their lost son. So, if the Academy is concerned about controversy and would like to exclude politics, On Body and Soul may yet stand a good chance.
Finally, looking at the the odds of the betting pages, Enyedi’s film is ranked third with an average multiplier of 7.5, following A Fantastic Woman (2) and The Square (2.5). However, looking at the winners of recent years, members of the academy often surprise us with their choices: sometimes the least probable winners get the award. In fact, based on last year’s gala, it is possible that someone will win even when another crew is already on the stage giving an acceptance speech.
Whatever the outcome might be, a third Oscar nomination in a row is in itself a huge success, and I can only hope that Enyedi’s film will follow in István Szabó’s and László Nemes Jeles’s footprints, and that after the victories of Mephisto in 1981 and Son of Saul in 2016, On Body and Soul will bring home yet another Foreign Language Oscar, and Hungary’s third consecutive Academy Award following last year’s win by Kristóf Deák’s short film Sing.
By Fanni Kaszás
via oscars.org, Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair, The Ringer