Oscar Preview: France, The New Wave

Every week from now until the critics groups start giving out their prizes for the best of the year, I’m going to be spotlighting the big Oscar players and their chances at Oscar glory this year.

Although the French New Wave is over, their Oscar domination is not. In the 55 years as a competitive Oscar category, France has received a staggering 36 nominations for Best Foreign Language Film (9 more than its nearest competitor, Italy, with 27 nods), winning nine trophies (one shy of Italy’s record). Prior to being a competitive category, the Academy gave out special awards to the Best Foreign Language Film. Of the eight awards given from 1947 through 1955, France won three of them. But the Academy’s love for French films started much earlier.

In 1938, for the 11th Academy Awards, France became the first foreign country to earn a nomination for a non-English Language film for Best Picture (Grand Illusion). In addition to that, of the 25 foreign language performances ever nominated at the Oscars, French films scored eight of those nominations, including one of three Oscars given to Foreign Language films for acting (Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose).

Film history itself may have some bearing on the popularity of French cinema with the Academy. The Lumière Brothers beat American Thomas Edison to the first paid public exhibition of motion pictures at the Salon Indien du Grand Café in Paris with their ten-piece short film series (each under one minute in length) depicting various aspects of life. This occurred on December 25, 1895, beating Edison by five months (his first showing was at the Koster and Bial’s Music Hall on April 19, 1896). The Lumières and Georges Méliès (who created the first science fiction picture in 1902 called A Trip to the Moon) were among the top worldwide producers of short films through the early silent era and helped mold the voice of film in the public eye.

French filmmakers have frequently influenced Americans, none more aptly or totally than those filmmakers who were part of the French New Wave which that arrived in the late 1950’s and sculpted a new style of narrative filmmaking throughout the 1960’s. Hollywood’s studio system was in a decline at the time, further enabling the French auteurs to rise to prominence, which even led to Hollywood’s artistic revival in the 1970s. François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and others have frequently been listed as influences for many of today’s most prominent directors.

France’s last Oscar for Foreign Language film came in 1992 when period epic Indochine claimed the prize. That’s a long draught between wins, though 14 years had already passed since the country’s prior trophy in 1978 for Get Out Your Handkerchiefs. Whether France will win another Oscar in the near future depends on their submissions. Five of the last ten years saw a French film nominated and more than half of those were strong competitors for the award. It’s only a matter of time before they pick up another prize, though this year may not be that case.

Declaration of War, dir. Valerie Donzelli

France could easily end up with a thirty-seventh Oscar nomination this year with Valérie Donzelli’s drama Declaration of War. The film earned strong reviews in France after its releasing, earning an average 4.3 out of 5 stars from critics. Even in the U.S., critics seem to be positively rewarding the film. Although The Hollywood Reporter is measured in its response to the film, Variety almost raves, at one point referring to the film as akin to Truffaut’s Jules and Jim in its ability to handle its subject matter with a light, humorous touch.

The story, based on the real life travails of its director and her husband, is about their young child who has been diagnosed with cancer and how they must cope with that devastating diagnosis. The sympathy card is one the Academy’s foreign language voters often embrace, which almost certifies that it will be a strong contender for an Oscar nomination and could even compete against others for the ultimate prize. A lot remains to be seen with the Academy’s antiquated rules for nominating films in Best Foreign Language Film (they revised it recently to hopefully tamp down the over-sentimentality of voters, but that hasn’t stopped them from nominating the chaff.

Forecast Categories (where the film is most likely to compete): Foreign Language Film

(Note: The year listed is the Academy year for which the film was nominated.)

France’s Oscar History

  • Monsieur Vincent (1948), dir. Maurice Cloche – Received the Special Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film
  • The Walls of Malapaga (1950), dir. René Clément – Received the Special Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Forbidden Games (1952), dir. René Clément – Received the Special Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Gervaise (1956), dir. René Clément – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Gates of Paris (1957), dir. René Clair – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • My Uncle (1958), dir. Jacques Tati – Received the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Black Orpheus (1959), dir. Marcel Camus – Received the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film
  • La Vérité (1960), dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Sundays and Cybele (1962), dir. Serge Bourguignon – Received the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film
  • The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), dir. Jacques Demy – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • A Man and a Woman (1966), dir. Claude Lelouch – Received the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Live for Life (1967), dir. Claude Lelouch – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Stolen Kisses (1968), dir. François Truffaut – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • My Night at Maud’s (1969), dir. Eric Rohmer – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Hoa-Binh (1970), dir. Raoul Coutard – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), dir. Luis Buñuel – Received the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Day for Night (1973), dir. François Truffaut – Received the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Lacombe, Lucien (1974), dir. Louis Malle – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Cousin, Cousine (1976), dir. Jean-Charles Tacchella – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Madame Rosa (1977), dir. Moshé Mizrahi – Received the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Get Out Your Handkerchiefs (1978), dir. Bertrand Blier – Received the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film
  • A Simple Story (1979), dir. Claude Sautet – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • The Last Metro (1980), dir. François Truffaut – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Coup de Torchon (Clean Slate) (1982), dir. Bertrand Tavernier – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Entre Nous (1983), dir. Diane Kurys – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Three Men and a Cradle (1985), dir. Coline Serreau – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Betty Blue (1986), dir. Jean-Jacques Beineix – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Au Revoir Les Enfants (Goodbye, Children) (1987), dir. Louis Malle – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Camille Claudel (1989), dir. Bruno Nuytten – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Cyrano de Bergerac (1990), dir. Jean-Paul Rappeneau – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Inodchine (1992), dir. Régis Wargnier – Received the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Ridicule (1996), dir. Patrice Leconte – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • East-West (1999), dir. Régis Wargnier – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • The Taste of Others (2000), dir. Agnès Jaoui – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Amélie (2001), dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • The Chorus (Les Choristes) (2004), dir. Christophe Barratier – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • Joyeux Noel (2005), dir. Christian Carion – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • The Class (2008), dir. Laurent Cantet – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
  • A Prophet (2009), dir. Jacques Audiard – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film

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