Every Non-English Language Best Picture Nominee Ranked

6. La Grande Illusion (1937)

This is up there with the top war films; taking a sad, philosophical look at men trying to make the best of a nightmarish situation and retain their dignity and honour in the process. It’s also one of the last great French films that saw release before the outbreak of WWII and the Nazi occupation, Jean Renoir’s treatise on war seeming very aware of the new conflict on the horizon.

It’s a great film about class, not only in its setting of POW camps for officers, but the sub-divisions within it based on each prisoner’s pre-war background. Erich von Stroheim’s fascinating German commandant character found a purpose on the battlefield, but extensive injuries reduced him to overseeing captured officers in an isolated castle prison, and even this is preferable to what was awaiting him in society outside as an (aristocratic) invalid at the end of the war.

If you think about it, The Great Escape is a much broader version of this set in the next World War, and Jean Gabin’s character is the Steve McQueen equivalent: the camp dissident put in isolation and planning an escape to Switzerland. He finds a chance of happiness in peace time when he convalesces with a lonely war widow who observes that without her husband, “The tables’s grown too big”.

Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You won Best Picture this year, a fine film but not quite up there with his best. Perhaps the Academy didn’t want to award another challenging Great War film less than a decade after All Quiet on the Western Front.

5. The Zone of Interest (2023)

The Zone of Interest Review

The Zone of Interest is an utterly devastating, soul-crushing film in ways that have rarely been achieved in a such precision-tooled fashion.

We follow Commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) and his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) who live their dream life in a luxurious modern house, while over their garden wall lies Auschwitz concentration camp.

Jonathan Glazer doesn’t make many films (he averages one per decade), but when they do come out they hit with the force of a freight train. His decision to go for a non-intrusive filming style, where the actors weren’t sure when or how closely they were being captured, brings a fly-on-the-wall immediacy to things and makes the audience complicit in the Hoss family’s apathy towards, and material benefits from, the horrors happening just next door.

Beginning and ending the film on an extended shot of a black void as you are made to squirm at the oppressive soundscape of arable sounds mixed with the noise of machinery and death is one of the many things that ensures The Zone of Interest stays with you.

4. Cries and Whispers (1972)

Ingmar Bergman’s almost unbearably intense period chamber piece follows two wealthy sisters (Liv Ullman and Ingrid Thulin) and their maid (Kari Sylwan) caring for their bedridden sister (Harriet Andersson) who is slowly, agonisingly dying of cancer.

The striking visuals, including searing red backdrops and characters’ staring faces melting into them at the end of each chapter, do a lot of work in the dialogue-light first half, but soon we have cutting monologues and even elements of macabre gothic horror worming its way into the plot.

By no means the easiest watch, with the pain-wracked performances and pervasive atmosphere, but it doesn’t outstay its welcome either; this is a hypnotic slice of domestic trauma populated by a family struggling to understand and express love for each other in an even remotely healthy way.

The Sting won this year because everyone loves watching Robert Redford and Paul Newman being charming and handsome together.

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