Oh, to be a silent intern, able to sit in on the deliberations of the mysterious few who select each year’s Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Language Film! How enlightening it would be to learn firsthand how more than 50 submissions from around the world are whittled down to five!
I’m dreaming, of course: The gaudy process of politicking by which American Oscar contenders muscle into front-runner positions seems positively transparent compared with the opacity of taste at work in the Oscarization of world cinema. All a movie lover can know is that a certain number of inscrutable judges have decided that a certain quintet of films from other countries is Academy Award-worthy. And that the populace must take the judgment on faith, since most of the nominees have not even been released in the U.S.
So the world turns, at least at the Kodak Theatre, where I couldn’t possibly guess what will win on March 5. (What should win is easier — more on that later.) Will it be Tsotsi? Gavin Hood’s crowd-pleasing, synthetic adaptation of a novel by the esteemed playwright Athol Fugard combines many elements that might appeal to idealists, including sad poverty and violence tempered by personal redemption, a story set in an exotically rough ‘hood, a gurgling kidnapped baby who is the catalyst for that redemption, and a snappy visual style, in City of God mode, suitable for airing on MTV. Presley Chweneyagae makes an attractive Tsotsi (the word means ”thug” or ”gangster,” because the young man has lost even his name in Johannesburg’s mean shanty streets), and when he brings the stolen baby to a local young mother (Terry Pheto) for nursing, the beautiful actress is lit like a Madonna. More calculated than a Starbucks sampler CD, the picture could win the up-from-hardship award.