PALM SPRINGS, Calif.—The Oscar is the goal, and before the final five, there is what’s called the “shortlist”—films generating buzz that may or may not get the nod. The Hollywood Reporter’s Mia Galuppo and Kevin Cassidy led two panels at the Palm Springs International Film Festival of filmmakers shortlisted as Oscar contenders this year for best foreign feature.
The first panel held at the Camelot Theater included Ireland’s Colm Bairéad, whose Gaelic-language “The Quiet Girl” was the impossible ticket to get today. Bairéad grew up in a home where only the native Irish language was spoken, and shared that his father was extremely tech-averse, and no fan of movies, until he needed cable to watch his favorite soccer team. At that point Bairéad said he found his own love of movies. He also said it was important to make a language that is effectively dying: Even though all road signs in Ireland are in both English and Gaelic, the latter is spoken significantly less in his country versus that of their former conquerors across the Irish Sea.
Denmark’s Ali Abbasi shared a rather amusing anecdote about trying to smuggle a prosthetic penis into conservative Jordan for a scene that required simulated oral sex. One such attempt was stopped by Jordanian custom officials and the next dildo flown in, he said, was in the “soft” position, requiring some ingenuity to get it to, well, perform at attention.
And when no one could be found to be the actor for the scene, Abbasi himself “sat” for the scene, which led to much laughter.
“Can I make a movie about the blowjob scene?” asked Pan Nalin of India, who was in town with “Last Film Show.”
On a more serious note, Abbasi decried many cultures in the Middle East that still regard women as inferior to men.
“Gender apartheid won’t hold forever,” he said hopefully.
Sweden’s Tarik Saleh made “Cairo Conspiracy” in Turkey. It was only recently, he said, that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan allowed filming inside his nation; Saleh said that Erdoğan had been feuding with another nearby country, which, ironically, gave the filmmaker some choices on where to make his film.
“You can use dictators’ hatred of one another to film there,” he said.
Also on the panel was Jerzy Skolimowski of Poland (“EO”) and Saim Sadiq of Pakistan, who made “Joyland.”
The second panel featured Davy Chou, a Cambodian-French filmmaker here with “Return to Seoul,” Marie Kreutzer of Austria (“Corsage”), Santiago Mitre of Argentina (“Argentina, 1985), Lukas Dhont of Belgium (“Close”) and Oscar-winner Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose “Bardo, or False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths” was my pick for last year’s best film. (In my broken Spanish, I shyly told Iñárritu before the panel of my love for his film; he thanked me and clapped me on the shoulder.)
“I think it’s refreshing to be in the presence, and be able to meet, these young filmmakers and see where cinema is going,” Iñárritu said, adding that the concept of a “foreign” film, to him, was a misnomer. “American films are foreign depending on who sees it,” he said.
Kreutzer’s “Corsage” tells a fictionalized version of the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Kreutzer said the empress is probably the biggest tourist “target” of her native country, after Mozart. Kreutzer decried a culture that continues to value women less than men, as can be seen perhaps in how history has treated the empress.
“Sometimes the expectations of women, [even] if they are fictional, are higher,” she said, adding that often when pitching scripts to financiers, she is responded to with “oh, it’s a great script, but do you think people will like her?”
Although “Argentina, 1985” (featured image) relates a historical event, Santiago Mitre advised the Camelot crowd to remain vigilant as, far too often, even now, democracy can be shaky—as recent events have shown.
“We see the violence everywhere [now] in politics,” he said.
Lukas Dhont of Belgium said his goal with “Close” was to show that male friendships, particularly among preteen boys, are a sacred thing before the world informs them that male-on-male intimacy, of any kind, is verboten.
“At this age, they talk about each other in the most loving, friendly way. They dare to openly use the word ‘love’ and [show] incredible emotional testimonies,” Dhont said. “[But] our society tells them that is soft, seen as feminine and something they [should] distance themselves from. So we deprive them of authentic connection.”
Dhont, who is openly gay, says that the vocabulary for love among males doesn’t exist as it should, even in nonsexual terms.
“I feel like we have been focusing so much on wars with others. We have been filming so many men at war and so little of men holding each other,” he said, adding that during those crucial early-teenage years, the suicide rates for boys quadruples that for girls.
“You feel you are the only one at a young age feeling things,” he said, adding that he told his young actors their own emotions wouldn’t be used “against” them on set. “We just live in a dominance-based society that puts everything hard and competitive on top and puts everything ‘soft’ on the bottom. Masculinity can also be linked to intimacy; it’s telling young men they can also find tenderness in each other. I think [that] opening up that conversation is the way to move forward.”
After praising the work of Dhont and his other fellow panelists, Iñárritu was asked about his rehearsal process for “Bardo,” which follows no “reality” in fashioning its dreamlike narrative. He said he didn’t even allow his producers to read the script; in fact, no one was allowed to page through it until he had cast Daniel Giménez Cacho as Silverio, the fictional filmmaker of “Bardo.”
Iñárritu first sat down with Cacho and, over two bottles of mezcal, discussed the unusual project with the actor, with whom he is close in age and, like the director, has children.
“He started telling me about some practices he does with meditation. … He described something and I said this is a cosmic encounter,” Iñárritu said, adding that his direction to Cacho on set was not to react but “just observe.”
“I wanted people to get the experience of a lucid dream, and when you are in a dream and you know it, you enjoy it,” the filmmaker said. “That dreamy kind of thing, which is cinema.”
The 2023 Palm Springs Festival took place January 5-16.