The failure of France’s The Taste of Things to secure an Oscar nomination for best international film this year has discomfited the French film industry as it marks the fourth year a French film has not made the final five.
Talk is now already turning to whether this could mean further change on the horizon for its selection committee.
Justine Triet’s Anatomy Of A Fall, the film the committee opted not to select, secured five major nominations, including best picture, best original screenplay, best director, best actress, best original screenplay and best film editing.
Back in September, France’s Oscar selection committee chose Tran Anh Hung’s period culinary romance The Taste Of Things to represent the country in the international feature film category instead of what was then hailed as the more obvious choice, Triet’s Palme d’Or winner. This was even as the thriller-meets-courtroom drama that was already a box office hit at home and on its way to becoming one outside France too.
The consideration process requires film teams to formally submit their features to the committee before dialogue between the US distributors of the films get underway – this year, IFC and Sapan Studios for The Taste of Things and Neon for Anatomy Of A Fall.
At the time of selection, industry insiders suggested the decision was partly due to Triet’s fiery Cannes speech that incurred the wrath of then-cultural minister Rima Abdul Malak, even though Malak was not part of the voting committee. Others pointed to the fact the film also includes English and some German and is only 59% in the French language whereas The Taste Of Things is 100% French.
Faced with industry reaction questioning the committee’s decision, The Taste of Things director Hung told France’s Premiere magazine: “No one questioned the Cannes festival jury’s decision to award the Palme d’Or to Justine Triet’s film, and that’s perfectly normal. Why, today, should we question the decision of the committee that appoints the French representative at the Oscars? I don’t understand this violence.”
Another major revamp?
It is not the first time France has interrogated how it chooses its Oscar entry after a 30-year drought in the best international feature category since Régis Wargnier’s 1993 Indochine. Last year’s entry from France, Alice Diop’s Venice-winning Saint Omer, failed to get nominated. The last time France made it to the category was 2019 for Ladj Ly’s police violence drama Les Misérables.
The members of the selection committee are chosen by the culture minister, Rachida Dati as of this month, but the minister does not vote. The process is overseen by representatives from the CNC, Unifrance and the Cesar academy but they do not vote either. Instead the seven voting members are comprised of two sales agents, two filmmakers, two producers and one “person qualified in the field of cinema” who are different each year. This model has been used for the past two years.
Unifrance’s president, now Gilles Pélisson, and the César Academy’s co-president Véronique Cayla, are invited to sit in on the talks, but cannot vote.
Under the new structure, Cannes Film Festival general delegate Thierry Fremaux was ousted entirely. He was on the 2022 voting committee that opted for Julia Ducournau’s Cannes winner Titane over Audrey Diwan’s Venice winner Happening. The industry at large considered Happening the safer bet to score a nomination and it is understood Fremaux’s participation was judged a conflict of interest.
It is understood there will now be a move to expand the committee to include a more diverse or simply bigger group of voters within the country.
Away from this particular conversation, it is a strong year for France heading into the Oscars. Anatomy Of A Fall has the most of all time for any film in the French language (silent film The Artist earned 11 in 2012) plus a nomination for French co-production Kaouther Ben Hania’s Four Daughters and animated shorts Pachyderme and Letter To A Pig.
CNC president Dominique Boutonnat took to social media to congratulate all of the films nominated, all of which received CNC funding. He singled out Triet who has been vocal about protecting France’s long-valued film financing system spearheaded by the country’s central film organisation.
“Congratulations on their nominations to the team behind Anatomy Of A Fall, especially to its director and screenwriter Justine Triet. This film, supported by the CNC’s Advance on Receipts, is a symbol of the success – both public and critical – of our films internationally in 2023,” he wrote on X (formerly Twitter) on Tuesday evening.