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Foreign Oscar nominees show the dark side

‘The Sea Inside’ is the leading contender to take the prize
/ Source: The Associated Press

If you think you have it rough, then several of this year’s foreign-language Oscar nominations will at least convince you that you are not alone.

One of the leading contenders for the awards to be given Sunday, Spain’s entry “The Sea Inside,” features a quadriplegic desperately seeking help to end his life while another. South Africa’s “Yesterday,” meanwhile, revolves around the slow death of a young mother whose husband has infected her with HIV/AIDS.

“The Sea Inside”, directed by Alejandro Amenabar, is based on the true story of Ramon Sampedro who was paralyzed following a diving accident and fought a legal battle for the right to enlist others to help him end his life.

The film has already been showered with awards including the Golden Globe and National Board of Review accolades for best foreign language movie.

Spanish actor Javier Bardem, who plays Sampedro, has also received wide acclaim for his performance during which he is largely confined to his bed, including a best actor award at the Venice Film Festival last year.

The controversial subject matter may put off some Oscar voters since any discussion of euthanasia sparks fierce debate whether in Spain or the United States.

“I hope ... people can talk openly and publicly about what this means. Why are we denying (people’s) right to do with their life what they want?” Bardem said in an interview with Reuters.

“Yesterday,” a film in Zulu which is written and directed by Darrell Roodt, is South Africa’s first nominee in the category. It is also the first major movie in Zulu.

The film has been used to help educate some South African rural communities about AIDS and has helped generate debate in a country where it is often considered a taboo subject.

“There is still a big stigma attached (to AIDS). With one film you can’t change the world but it is amazing how much debate it has already stimulated,” Roodt told Reuters.

“It (AIDS) is as a big a problem as apartheid was. It is a real war,” he added.

Leleti Khumalo, who also has a role in Oscar-nominated movie “Hotel Rwanda,” plays Yesterday, a young illiterate mother from a small village who struggles to stay alive long enough to see her daughter start school after her mine worker husband infects her with the HIV virus.

Roodt said he is already writing the script for a movie about the next stage of the tragedy, what happens to children after their parents die of AIDS.

German, French entriesGerman entry “Downfall,” directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, also breaches many taboos.

It is based on the final days of Adolf Hitler and shows the Nazi leader as a human being rather than as a monster. Some German critics savaged it, but the movie has been widely praised by their American counterparts.

“My film is very controversial. Are we as filmmakers allowed to depict Hitler as a man or are we supposed to depict him as a monster,” Hirschbiegel said in a recent interview with Reuters.

“We owe it to the victims to show that this was not a demon from hell but a man born in Austria and raised in Germany. I am very proud of this movie. It is my best work.”

“The Chorus,” a French movie directed by Christophe Barratier, sounds a more optimistic note. It tells of how a music teacher transforms lives in a school for troubled boys by forming a choir.

The boys sing sweetly although critics have sounded some sour notes, questioning its relationship to the real world.

The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis said the movie, which was a big hit in France, was “engineered for maximum smiles and a truckload of tissues” while Daily Variety’s Lisa Nesselson commented that “no stereotype is left unheralded and no heartstring left untugged.”

Sweden’s “As it is in Heaven,” directed by Kay Pollak, was a huge success in Sweden but is considered a long-shot Oscar contender. It tells of a talented musician returning to the community where he spent his youth while recovering from a heart attack.

Every year, the foreign language category seems to be dogged by controversy about the films which didn’t make the final list, and this year is no exception.

Among the acclaimed foreign language movies which either didn’t make the short list or were declared ineligible are “The Motorcycle Diaries,” “Maria Full of Grace,” “A Very Long Engagement” and “House of Flying Daggers”.

All four movies were nominated in other categories.

“The Motorcycle Diaries” received adapted screenplay and best song Oscar nominations while Catalina Sandino Moreno got a best actress nod for her role in “Maria Full of Grace”.

“A Very Long Engagement” was nominated in the art direction and cinematography categories while “House of Flying Daggers” also received a nomination in the latter category.