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Oscar snub for 'Of Gods and Men' ruffles French feathers

Text by Jon FROSCH

Latest update : 2011-02-26

The omission of a beloved French film in the Best Foreign Language Film category of Oscar nominees - and the inclusion of a sceptically regarded Algerian one - has raised a few eyebrows and damaged some egos in France.

In the grand scheme of French-American relations, it’s a miniscule bump in the road.

Still, the omission of Xavier Beauvois’s critically beloved “Of Gods and Men” (“Des hommes et des dieux”) in the Best Foreign Language Film category of Oscar nominees has raised some eyebrows and hurt a few feelings in France. Adding salt to the wound is the fact that the Academy nominated Rachid Bouchareb’s “Outside the Law”, an Algerian entry accused by several French politicians of being anti-French.

Both films deal with France’s historically uneasy relationship with former colony Algeria – but in the one that was nominated, the French are the oppressors, while in the one passed over, they are essentially martyrs.

The latter film, “Of Gods and Men”, tells a true story of French Trappist monks living in an Algerian village in the 1990s who decide to stay despite a wave of Islamic extremism. The understated, powerful film won the second place Grand Prize at Cannes in May, graced dozens of critics’ “10-best” lists at the end of the year, and scored 11 nominations for the Césars (the French equivalent of the Oscars).

‘Sniff, sniff’

An “enormous disappointment” was how French regional daily Le Parisien qualified the Oscar snub. “Sniff sniff” lamented the online edition of popular magazine Voici.

Meanwhile, “Outside the Law”, about Algerian brothers living in France during Algeria’s war for independence, received only middling reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. The film, inflated with period pomp and didactic storytelling, also set off a controversy ahead of its premiere at Cannes last spring. A deputy from President Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP party accused filmmaker Bouchareb of “falsifying” history in his portrayal of the 1945 Sétif massacre (in which clashes between French forces and Algerian protesters caused mass deaths on both sides). According to the deputy, as well as the French Defence Ministry, “Outside the Law” placed disproportionate blame on the French side, while minimising the violence of the Algerian uprising.

Ignoring French cinema?

Films eligible for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar are submitted by individual countries, and then narrowed down to five nominees by a designated committee in the US. The final step comes when Academy members vote for one of the films.

One French journalist, writing for respected magazine Paris Match, alleged that since “Indochine” took home the Best Foreign Language Film trophy in 1993, “the Oscars have systematically ignored French cinema”. Indeed, France has not won since then (though eight French films were nominated), whereas it was a frequent winner in earlier decades.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM NOMINEES

Outside the Law (Hors la Loi) (Algeria)

Incendies (Canada)

In a Better World (Denmark)

Dogtooth (Greece)

Biutiful (Mexico)
 

Franck Garbarz, a critic for prestigious French film magazine Positif, told France24.com that the French reaction was one of “hurt pride”, and admitted he would have rather seen “Of Gods and Men” nominated.

Still, Garbarz noted that “Of Gods and Men” does not need an Oscar for international exposure, because its quality as a film would earn it notice around the world.

And, he added, “it’s really a ridiculous controversy”.

The Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 27.
 

Date created : 2011-01-26

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