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Foreign Embassy 

Rafael Film Center screens overseas Oscar contenders

click to enlarge MISS UNIVERSE 'Keep Smiling,' a comedy from Georgia, satirizes beauty pageants.
  • MISS UNIVERSE 'Keep Smiling,' a comedy from Georgia, satirizes beauty pageants.

Let's hear it for foreign filmmakers, and the way they craze the gossamer surface of the Oscars broadcast by proclaiming some political opinion or artistic taste that the Academy forbids. (Moreover, the Best Foreign Film award can lure a subtitle-leery audience to take risks.) Over 70 films from as many nations qualify for the award this year, and the Rafael's 10th annual "For Your Consideration" series is a welcome mini-festival of 14 contenders.

Among them is what I'd expect is this year's shoe-in at the Oscars, 'The Intouchables' (Jan 14). Not without its faults, this nonetheless pleasing film explores the odd-couple friendship of a street-smart Franco-African from the banlieues (played by the exuberantly handsome Omar Sy) and an upper class Parisian paralytic (Francoise Cluzet).

The amazing Gudlaugur Fridthórsson's history of survival in the waters off Iceland in 1984 surpasses any issue of Aquaman comics. Look for a strong challenge to The Intouchable's likely victory from Fridthórsson's biopic 'The Deep' (Jan 16.) Another strong candidate is 'War Witch' (Rebelle) (Jan. 13), Canada's entry. Montréal filmmaker Kim Nguyen films it as a letter from a tormented former child soldier in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to her unborn child.

Georgia—like neighboring Armenia—could boast a couple of millennia of storytelling. 'Keep Smiling' (Jan. 11 and 12) is female director Rusudan Chkonia's comedy of a calamitous beauty contest which attracts (and ends up attacking) 10 housewives.

Kim Ki-duk's Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring is nearly the best Buddhist film I've seen, and his Isle is a memorably harrowing portrait of the way the rich treat the poor in Korea. So Kim's 'Pieta' (Jan. 12) is bound to be superlative, even if just superlatively bizarre: a portrait of mother love affecting a seriously violent man. Rodrigo Plá's 'Delay' (Jan. 13) is a more common maternal love story: a factory worker in Uruguay sandwiched between her three children and the senile father she can't place in a home.

More details on the series at www.cafilm.org.

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