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What the Oscars missed: That other foreign film

GlobalPost correspondents chime in with their overlooked picks for this year's Best Foreign Film.

animalistic, and perhaps conflicted, human condition when people are ensconced in suffering.

Some audiences will get nauseous over the bone-grinding and limb-hacking in the first half of the film. But the movie follows a Korean trend of touching on dark themes, which has become especially popular overseas (inside Korea, they love romantic dramas). Think Park Chun-wook's 2005 film "Oldboy," which carries a disturbing incest theme but contributed to the recent global prominence of Korean filmmakers.

— Geoffrey Cain in Seoul

9) "Gangs of Wasseypur" (India)

How India goes about selecting films to enter into the Oscars is beyond me. This year, the selectors chose a low-wattage, campy tearjerker about the relationship between a deaf-mute boy and an autistic girl called, appropriately, “Barfi!” (Okay, it means something different in Hindi). Meanwhile, the real masterpiece was Anurag Kashyap's marathon “Gangs of Wasseypur” — which received a standing ovation when it was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012. At a whopping 318-minutes long, the two-part, cow-belt crime noir uses the disputes among three rural criminal empires to address the legacy of British colonialism, Hindu-Muslim conflict, the grim reality of India's coal industry, Indira Gandhi-style socialism and the breakneck scramble for wealth that began with liberalization in 1991. All with a wit and verve that prompted comparisons to Quentin Tarantino, Sergio Leone and Francis Ford-Coppola. (See also Kashyap's “Gulaal” (2009) and “Dev D” (2009) — both of which might have done India proud, as well.)

— Jason Overdorf in New Delhi

10) "Barbara" (Germany)

Germany’s submission for the Oscars this year dealt with a complicated theme not unfamiliar to the panel’s voters: life in the GDR, or East Germany. “Barbara,” director Christian Petzold’s foray into the subject, has been well-received at home and abroad — most notably in France — and won its director the Silver Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival in February.

“Barbara” is about an East German doctor, banished from her post at East Berlin’s largest hospital to a small provincial position near the Baltic Sea. Her world is one of mistrust and disappointment, with an undercurrent of danger as she secretly meets her West German boyfriend and helps a young pregnant prisoner. The tension is often expressed through silence, and the characters are complex and flawed.

The last German film to win the Oscar for best foreign-language film was “The Lives of Others,” a thriller exploring the role of the Stasi, or East German secret police. That movie, which won in 2006, was much more dramatic in its approach, said Fritz Goettler, a film critic for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “I like Petzold’s film, but because it was so still, so focused, maybe it was not as accessible,” said Goettler.

Petzold told the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel that, for him, the Oscar seemed more distant than Atlantis, and he admitted that he had never watched the awards ceremony on TV. “As a child, I got up to watch Muhammad Ali box on TV, or to see the astronauts land on the moon. But to watch the Oscars?”

— Mary Beth Warner in Berlin

11) "After Lucia" (Mexico)

Winning the coveted Un Certain Regard prize — intended for highly original films — at Cannes last May, Mexican film "After Lucia" certainly had the critical credentials for a possible nod in the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film this year.

Writer-director Michel Franco’s eloquent but hard-hitting exploration of high-school bullying tells the story of teenager Alejandra, played by Tessa Ia, as she is victimized by her peers after a cellphone video of a drunken sexual escapade is anonymously emailed to her classmates.

The Lucia of the title is Alejandra’s recently deceased mother. The bullying saga plays out against the backdrop of the bereaved daughter’s tense relationship with her grieving father, Roberto, played by Hernan Mendoza.

While Chilean movie "No" is nominated, Latin American film has been booming in recent years and two nominations from the region for best foreign language film would certainly not have been excessive this year.

But the brooding atmosphere, not to mention camerawork reminiscent of Lars von Trier’s dogma school of headache-inducing shaky cam, may have been more than the Academy, in its pursuit of lighter viewing, could stomach.

— Simeon Tegel in Lima

12) "Nairobi Half Life" (Kenya)

David Tosh Gitonga’s film, “Nairobi Half Life,” tells a familiar story of rags to riches in a developing country. The movie, Gitonga’s first, focuses on the life of an aspiring actor who leaves his village with huge hopes and little money. He goes to Nairobi, where he quickly falls into a circle of criminals and struggles to pursue his thespian dreams.

It could be sugary, it could be cliche, it could be all too familiar. Happily, it’s not. Though the film tells a well-worn story and, generally, explores the human condition, Gitonga manages to do so in ways that are fresh, challenging and witty.

"Nairobi Half Life" is also a pleasure to watch, tightly edited and impeccably shot. The soundtrack keeps the film moving, and the end result is innovative but not rushed, smooth without being too slick.

The film, in English and Swahili with English subtitles, is the result of a partner project between DW-Akademie, One Fine Day Films and Ginger Ink. Tom Tykwer acted as supervising director through his One Fine Day Film Workshop, a program that sponsors one African film per year.

— Marie Doezema in Paris