Chile Goes for the Bronze: A Look Back at the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film

By Vanessa Erazo, LatinoBuzz

A few weeks ago the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released its shortlist for the Foreign Language Film Award. The nominations are being determined in two phases. After a committee of several hundred Academy members screened all 71 eligible films nine were selected to advance to the second round, making it to the shortlist. Of these nine only one Latin American film made the cut, Pablo Larraín's NO, starring Gael García Bernal.

Specially invited committees in New York and Los Angeles will watch the nine shortlisted films and cast their votes in early January. The remaining five films will be announced as the official Oscar nominees for the Best Foreign Language Film on January 10, 2013.

If NO gets enough votes it will be the first time a Chilean film is nominated in the Foreign Language Film category. What are Chile's chances? Well, if we take a look back at the Latin American nominees and winners of the Best Foreign Language Film Award, the odds don't look so good.

And the Nominees are....

This year nine Latin American countries submitted a film for consideration: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Of these nine, only Chile made the shortlist. If it is nominated it will become part of an elite group of Latin American countries that have received this honor. Mexico leads the pack with eight nominations, followed by Argentina who has six, and Brazil with four. Nicaragua, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Peru have all been nominated once. That is a total of 22 nominations for all Latin American countries since 1960, when the region received its first nomination for Macario, directed by Roberto Gavaldón. The film, a supernatural drama set in colonial times, lost out to Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring. It was the first time Mexico had been nominated in the category and despite being the most often nominated country in Latin America, it has failed to ever win a statuette. So, which countries have won the coveted award?

And the Award Goes to....

Despite its 22 nominations Latin America has only won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film twice. Both times the winners were from Argentina. The first win was in 1985 for La historia oficial (The Official Story), set in Buenos Aires. In the film an upper middle class couple adopts a young girl during the dictatorship. As the country transitions to democracy they begin to suspect that she may be the child of one of the victims of the forced disappearances that occurred during the dirty war, known as los desaparecidos. 

Argentina's second Oscar came almost twenty-five years later with El secreto de sus ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes) in 2009. In the crime thriller directed by Juan José Campanella and starring Ricardo Darín, a retired federal agent begins to write a novel on an unsolved murder case that has haunted him for years. With its two wins, Argentina remains the only Latin American country to have brought home the bronze. Taking into account its 22 nominations but only two Oscar statuettes the odds aren't the best for Latin America as a whole and Chile in particular (zero nominations or wins), but let's cross our fingers and hope for the best. Chile could very well be selected this time since NO is the kind of the film the Academy usually goes for.

Set in 1988, NO recounts the amazing real life story of a national referendum that everyone thought was destined to fail but ultimately dissolved the Chilean dictatorship and ended General Pinochet's almost twenty year rule. Leading up to the historic vote each side was allowed 15 minutes of late-night TV airtime every day for a month straight. Gael García Bernal stars as Rene Saavedra, a young, rebellious skateboard-riding advertising executive who went from selling soap and soda to heading up the campaign to vote NO on keeping Pinochet in power for eight more years. Shot using U-matic video cameras, Larraín wanted to match the look of the archival television footage woven into the film. As a result of using the same format that T.V. news was shot in during the eighties, the real-life footage seamlessly matches his purposely grainy and overexposed film. Despite its dreary appearance, it is funny, uplifting, and entertaining. It's not a slow artsy film with little dialogue; it is perfectly paced. And together, Bernal's charm and the film's many amusing moments end up creating a movie that will surely captivate the Academy and maybe even a mainstream commercial audience.

Every year the Academy Awards are televised live in more than 200 countries. This year's winners will be presented with their Oscar statuette on Sunday, February 24, 2013.

Latin American Best Foreign Language Film nominees by country (winners are in bold)

1960 -- Macario
1961 -- The Important Man
1962 -- Tlayucan
1975 -- Letters from Marusia
2000 -- Amores Perros
2002 -- El Crimen del Padre Amaro
2006 -- Pan's Labyrinth
2010 -- Biutiful

1974 -- The Truce
1984 -- Camila
1985 -- The Official Story [Oscar winner]
1998 -- Tango
2001 -- Son of the Bride
2009 -- The Secret in Their Eyes [Oscar winner]

1962 -- Keeper of Promises (The Given Word)
1995 -- O Quatrilho
1997 -- Four Days in September
1998 -- Central Station

1982 -- Alsino and the Condor

Puerto Rico    
1989 -- What Happened to Santiago

1994 -- Strawberry and Chocolate

2009 -- The Milk of Sorrow

FUN FACT: In 1992, amongst the five nominees for Best Foreign Language Film was Uruguay's A Place in the World. Shortly after the nominations were announced the film was deemed ineligible and Uruguay's nomination was revoked! A closer look at the film revealed that, "it was wholly produced in Argentina and had insufficient Uruguayan artistic control" according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Written by Juan Caceres and Vanessa Erazo, LatinoBuzz is a weekly feature on SydneysBuzz that highlights Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film with the specific objective of presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow @LatinoBuzz on twitter.