Cambodia reveals Academy Awards pick

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Asia / Pacific Roundabout

Cambodia has selected the feature film The Last Reel (2014), directed by Sotho Kulikar, as its official submission for the Best Foreign-Language Film category at the upcoming 88th Academy Awards. The drama is one of the first Cambodian movies to have been directed by a woman and has already won prizes at this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival and the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy.

Like so many other contemporary Cambodian films, The Last Reel deals with the country’s terrifying past under the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, which ruled between 1975 and 1979. Characterized by stylish cinematography, the drama tells the story of a young, rebellious and listless female college student, Sophoun, who would rather spend her time with her motorbike-driving hoodlum boyfriend than attending to her studies. One day she discovers a number of dusty movie still photos in a former cinema that was converted into a car-repair shop.

To her big surprise, she recognizes her own mother as a young woman in the pictures. When Sophoun confronts her mum about the photos, she reluctantly admits that she used to be a big movie star “in the old times.” Her fame was based on a single film, the last reel of which was supposedly destroyed after the Khmer Rouge took power.

Sophoun doesn’t believe her mother and embarks on a vigorous search to recover the allegedly lost print. During the course of her investigation, she is able to dig up some dark secrets about the roles her parents played during the Khmer Rouge regime.

The Last Reel follows in the wake of director Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture, which was nominated for a Foreign-Language Film Oscar in 2013. Although it didn’t win, it was the first Cambodian motion picture ever to make the shortlist. The country did not submit a film last year.

Thailand Decides on Gay-Themed Film

Meanwhile, Cambodia’s neighboring country Thailand also has revealed its choice for the 88th Academy Awards: a gay-themed coming-of-age drama.How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) was directed by Korean-American Josh Kim and stars a largely unknown cast. It is the debut film of Kim, who according to press reports even learned to speak and write Thai in preparation for his movie.

An eight-member committee fielded by the awkwardly named National Federation of Thai Motion Picture and Content Associations eventually selected How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) from among 59 contenders. “The film has successfully been able to raise issues that people in Thailand don't openly talk about," Weerasak Kowsurat, the Federation’s secretary-general, told the Associated Press.

Thailand is at its core still an extremely conservative society where issues like homosexuality are rarely discussed and often swept under the carpet, a surprising fact for many visitors who have stumbled across a prolific gay and transsexual scene both in the capital of Bangkok and various tourist resorts around the country.

How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) tells the story of an 11-year-old boy who is being raised in a poor suburban district of Bangkok by his gay older brother. When his brother is called up for a military draft lottery, the boy devises a plan to help him dodge it.

Thailand recruits young men for compulsory military service through a controversial–and corruption-prone–lottery, where the offspring of wealthy people routinely buy their way out by bribing officials. While transgender people generally are exempt from participating in the lottery, it is still required for males claiming to be gay.

While no Thai movie has ever been nominated for a Foreign-Language Film Oscar, a string of local movies have won prizes at various film festivals over the past decades. Most notable among these is perhaps Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s fantasy drama Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, which won the Palme d’Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.   

Prophet Film to Represent Iran at 2016 Oscars

The Islamic Republic of Iran has selected the epic biopic Muhammad: The Messenger of God, a film focusing on the early childhood life of the prophet Mohammed, as its contender for next year’s Foreign-Language Film Academy Award. Directed by Majid Majidi, the movie was reportedly produced with a budget of almost $40 million, which was partly funded by the government, effectively making it the most expensive film in the country’s cinematic history. Released in late August, the film has barely earned $2 million at the local box office, although it reportedly was screened in 130 theatres across the country.

Majidi said his movie is intended to help alleviate “the violent image” various Islamic and jihadist groups have created for the Muslim religion. Majidi himself is no stranger to the Academy Awards. His film The Children of Heaven was nominated for the Foreign-Language Film Oscar at the 1998 Academy Awards, although it didn’t win. However, Iran received the prestigious trophy at the 85th Academy Awards in 2012 for the internationally acclaimed social drama A Separation, directed by Asghar Farhadi. The movie also bagged several prizes at film festivals around the world.

For inquiries and feedback, contact Thomas Schmid at thomas.schmid@filmjournal.com.