The stories of a cattle herder, Estonian farmer and orphaned Catholic are among the foreign-language films vying for the Oscar this year. From Poland, there's "Ida," Argentina is represented with "Wild Tales," Russia is competing with "Leviathan," Mauritania has "Timbuktu" and "Tangerines" was filmed in Estonia.
"Leviathan" explores corrupt institutions from church to state and has been boycotted by some Russians who find it too controversial. In one scene, characters use images of Russian leaders from Lenin to Gorbachev for target practice, before one asks, “Haven’t you got anyone more recent?”
The comedy "Wild Tales" from writer-director Damian Szifron has scary mobsters, aggressive drivers and cheating grooms. In "Timbuktu," Abderrahmane Sissako weaves a tale of Islamic extremists establishing the rules of order in a recalcitrant region.
Director Pawel Pawlikowski's "Ida" is widely considered to be the front-runner, according to the Los Angeles Times. It is the story of a young woman in 1960s Poland reflecting on her faith. The Polish Anti-Defamation League accused the film of ignoring Germany’s wartime occupation of the country. It launched a petition signed by around 40,000 people calling for "Ida" to be screened with captions describing the historical context.
Some predict "Wild Tales" could claim the Oscar. One critic wrote, “Each episode is a variation on the ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore’ theme, with put-upon souls reaching their limits of tolerance in gleefully destructive ways.” "Leviathan" is another favorite after winning big at the Golden Globes, according to IndieWire. "Timbuktu" won Cannes’ Ecumenical Jury award, but is the underdog in the Oscars race. Asked what a win for his “Timbuktu” might mean, Sissako told the Wall Street Journal, “The Oscar would shine a specific and rare light on Africa, which is important to me because it’s a continent we often speak of in negative terms, as a place where tragedies take place. The entire continent would be winning.”
The Academy considered more than 80 foreign films this year, a record. All five of the nominees have distributors in the U.S., but have struggled to find an American audience.