CATEGORIES Comedy, Foreign Language, Sony Classics, Oscar Watch, Toronto International Film Festival, Cinematical Indie, Toronto Film Festival, Oscar News, CinematicalAs I reported over the weekend, Israel's submission for next year's foreign-language category at the Oscars is The Band's Visit, a well-received comedy about an Egyptian police band that gets lost in Israel. It swept the Ophirs (Israel's Oscar equivalent), winning eight awards including best picture and best director. It won awards at Sarajevo and Cannes. And Sony Pictures Classics reportedly paid more for it than anyone has ever paid for an Israeli film.
So what's the problem, Oscar-wise? It might have too much English in it.
L.A. Weekly's Nikki Finke reported on Sunday that the film's "rivals" -- people involved with movies that weren't selected, one assumes -- are claiming that more than 50 percent of The Band's Visit's dialogue is in English. The Academy rules for this category (which you can read in their entirety here) simply say that to be eligible, a film must be "predominantly" in a language other than English. The rules don't give specifics about percentages.
Cinematical's James Rocchi saw the film at Toronto (and liked it). His recollection is that it was mostly in Hebrew and Arabic without too much English. He told me: "The use of English to me seemed like either a) people talking about song lyrics or other concerns in the language they were written in or b) a natural sort of meeting place -- 'I speak Arabic; you speak Hebrew; we both speak bad English....'"
The Academy won't get into it until after the Oct. 1 submission deadline. If they decide the film is not "predominantly" in a foreign tongue, they'll disqualify it -- and it won't be the first time. Just two years ago, Singapore's entry, Be with Me, was bounced for this very reason. We'll keep you posted on the fate of Israel's film.