The DVD Report #659

Grand Illusion was the first foreign language film honored with a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.

We know that all the Oscar winners for Best Picture through 2018 have been released on DVD and/or Blu-ray, but what about the winners for International Film, previously known as Best Foreign Film or Best Foreign Language Film? The record there is much spottier.

With more than sixty winners to date, we don’t the space to list all the films that have been released, but we can discuss a few highlights.

Oscar’s first decade (1928-1937) did not single out foreign language films. Oscar’s second decade (1938-1947) started out with France’s Grand Illusion, directed by Jean Renoir, earning a Best Picture nomination and ended with an honorary award given to Italy’s Shoeshine, directed by Vittorio De Sica. Grand Illusion is available on DVD and Blu-ray. Shoeshine is available on Amazon Prime.

Oscar’s third decade (1948-1957) started out continuing to present foreign films with honorary awards including those given to Italy’s Bicycle Thieves, directed by Shoeshine director Vittorio De Sica, and Japan’s Rashomon, directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune. Both are available on DVD and Blu-ray.

The current practice of nominating five films from different countries from which to select a winner began with the 1956 award which was won by Italy’s La Strada, directed by Federico Fellini and starring Anthony Quinn and the director’s wife Giulietta Masina. Fellini also directed the second competitive winner, Italy’s Nights of Cabiria, starring Masina. La Strada is available on DVD and Blu-ray. Nights of Cabiria is available on DVD but hard to find.

Oscar’s fourth decade (1958-1967) honored such masterworks as Sweden’s The Virgin Spring and Through a Glass Darkly, both directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Max von Sydow, and Italy’s 8 1/2, starring Marcello Mastroianni, the third winner directed by Federico Fellini. The decade also saw awards go to two exquisite films from lesser known directors, France’s Sundays and Cybele, directed by Serge Bourgignon and starring Hardy Kruger, and Czechoslovakia’s Closely Watched Trains, directed by Jiri Menzel. They are all available on DVD and all but Closely Watched Trains are available on Blu-ray.

Oscar’s fifth decade (1968-1977) began with the award going to the Soviet Union’s epic seven-hour-and-two-minute production of War and Peace, directed by Sergei Bondarchuk. It continued with awards for such classics as Algeria’s Z, directed by Costa-Gavras and starring Yves Montand and Jean-Louis Trintignant; Italy’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, starring Dominique Sanda and Helmut Berger, the third winner directed by Vittorio De Sica; France’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, directed by Luis Bunuel and starring Fernando Rey and Delphine Seyrig; France’s Day for Night, directed by Francois Truffaut and starring Jacqueline Bisset and Valentina Cortese; Italy’s Amarcord, the fourth winner directed by Federico Fellini; and France’s Madame Rosa directed by Moshé Mizrahi and starring Simone Signoret. All but Madame Rosa were available on DVD at one time. Z and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis are hard to find. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Day for Night, and Amarcord are available on Blu-ray.

Oscar’s sixth decade (1978-1987) honored such fine films as Germany’s The Tin Drum, directed by Volker Schlondorff; Hungary’s Mephisto, directed by Istvan Szabo and starring Klaus Maria Brandauer; Sweden’s Fanny and Alexander, the third winner directed by Ingmar Bergman; Argentina’s The Official Story, directed by Luis Puenzo and starring Norma Aleandro; and Denmark’s Babette’s Feast, directed by Gabriel Axel and starring Stephanie Audran. All are available on DVD and Blu-ray, but some may be harder to find than others.

Oscar’s seventh decade (1988-1997) saw awards going to such highly praised films as Denmark’s Pelle the Conqueror, directed by Bille August and starring Max von Sydow; Italy’s Cinema Paradiso, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore and starring Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio; the Netherlands’ Antonia’s Line, directed by Marleen Gorris; and that country’s Character, directed by Mike van Diem. All are available on DVD and all but Character are available on Blu-ray.

Oscar’s eighth decade (1998-2007) gave us the likes of Italy’s Life Is Beautiful, directed by and starring Roberto Benigni; Spain’s All About My Mother, directed by Pedro Almodovar and starring Cecilia Roth; Taiwan’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, directed by Ang Lee and starring Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh; Germany’s Nowhere in Africa, directed by Caroline Link; and Germany’s The Lives of Others, directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. All are available.

Oscar’s ninth decade spread the wealth to Denmark’s In a Better World, directed by Susanne Bier; Iran’s A Separation, directed by Asghar Farhadi; Austria’s Amour, directed by Michael Haneke and starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva; Poland’s Ida, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski; and Hungary’s Son of Saul directed by Laszlo Nemes and starring Geza Rohrig. All are available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Oscar’s tenth decade began with the award going to Mexico’s Roma, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. Nominated for ten Academy Awards including Best Picture, the film won three with two going to Cuaron for his screenplay and direction. The film, based on a remembrance from Cuaron’s childhood, was briefly shown in a handful of theatres in select cities in the U.S. and other countries in late November and early December 2019 before being released worldwide on the TV and internet subscription service, Netflix on December 14, 2019. It was Netflix’s position not to release the films it acquired for its subscription service on DVD or Blu-ray and for more than a year the only place to see the film was on Netflix. That has changed with the release today of the film on both DVD and Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection.

This year’s winner, South Korea’s Parasite directed by Bong Joon-Ho, becomes the first foreign language film to win Best Picture. It also won for Best Direction and Screenplay by Bong. Reviewed here last week, it is available on DVD and Blu-ray.

This week’s new releases include Roma and the Blu-ray release of A Little Romance.

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