At the after-party for Rachel Boynon's engrossing political spin chronicle "Our Brand is Crisis," a few industry-ites (you know who you are) cornered me with accusations about the recent spate of press heralding the death of foreign film distribution (spurred on, apparently, by that darn New York Times story).
The conversation was fruitful: First of all, I will happily concede that foreign film is not altogether dead in the U.S., as recently evidenced by the bounteous box office numbers for Michael Haneke's "Cache." The theatrical success of this film alone is cause for celebration. A harsh, harrowing look at a man and country's refusal to take responsibility for the past and a powerful post 9-11 examination of blowback, "Cache" is nearing $3 million at the box office. Maybe this film was marketed as a thriller or some critics have used the label to lure audiences, but "Cache" is a starkly realized auteur film from a master of cinematic cruelty and manipulation. It's the Austrian director's most successful film in the U.S. ever. And it doesn't even have the imprateur of an Oscar nomination.
About those Oscar nominated films, German language nominee "Sophie Scholl - The Final Days " opened moderately well two weeks ago, and Miramax's South African feel-good picture "Tsotsi " opened even stronger last weekend. Undoubtedly helped by their recent Oscar buzz, it's still too early to tell whether these films have legs -- and even harder to say whether they can match last year's contenders like "Downfall", "The Chorus" and "The Sea Inside", but at least they're out there.
Though after reading Andrew O'Hehir's analysis of the category on Salon, I have to say it's quite sobering to read about the string of classics awarded in the 50s and 60s, including "La Strada," "Nights of Cabiria," "Mon Oncle," "Black Orpheus," "Virgin Spring," "Through a Glass Darkly," and "8 1/2." Wow.
One last thing: I disagree with O'Hehir's odds. "Tsotsi " has much better odds than he lets on; dare I say it may be the favorite. The Holocaust factor may go to "Sophie" and "Joyeux Noel" is too good to be true with its geriatric story of WWII-era peace and reconciliation, but I think "Tsotsi " may very well take the statuette.