Meet This Year's Latin American Oscar Contenders

[September 29, 2015 UPDATE] Presos, the third feature film by Esteban Ramírez, has been selected as Costa Rica’s submission to the 88th edition of the Academy Awards, it was announced today.

Starring Natalia Arias and Alejandro Aguilar, the drama tells the love story between a woman and a behind bars convict. It becomes the fourth candidate from the Central American country, and the second film by Ramírez (after Caribe in 2005) to represent the country at the Oscars.

Watch the trailer:

[September 28, 2015 UPDATE] Pablo Trapero’s El Clan / The Clan has been selected as this year’s Oscar contender for Argentina, it was announced today. The film, which has been breaking local box office records, had its international premiere at the Venice Film Festival recently where it received the award for Best Director.

Trapero’s crime film recounts the astonishing true story of a seemingly normal middle-class family that trafficked in the kidnapping, ransoming and murder of the wealthy.

Argentina has won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film twice in the past, in 1985 with Luis Puenzo’s The Official Story, and in 2009 with Juan José Campanella’s The Secret in Their Eyes. The country has received seven nominations in total, most recently last year with Damián Szifron’s Wild Tales.

Watch the trailer:

[SEPTEMBER 26, 2015 - UPDATE] Uruguay announced yesterday that Germán Tejeira's debut feature film A Moonless Night / Una noche sin luna is this year's Oscar candidate for the South American country.

In Tejeira's film, three lonely characters travel to a small town lost in the Uruguayan countryside during New Year's Eve. Cesar, a divorced man, arrives to the town where he will have dinner with his ex-wife's new family to win back his little daughter's love. Antonio, a small-time magician, is trying to get to town to perform his routine at the community center, but his car breaks down. Stranded in the middle of the deserted road he meets Laura, a woman working at the toll station. Miguel, a performer, prepares his musical return to sing at the community center's New Year party. Following these paths, the characters will have a chance to turn around their destiny."

Uruguay has been sending submissions to the Academy Awards since 1992. That year, the country's first candidate Un lugar en el mundo / A Place in the World by Adolfo Aristaráin was nominated, but got disqualified as the Academy considered it largely an Argentinean production.

Watch the trailer:

[SEPTEMBER 17, 2015 - UPDATE] Colombia has announced that Ciro Guerra’s third feature film Embrace of the Serpent / El abrazo de la serpiente will be representing the South American country at the 88th edition of the Academy Awards.

Inspired by the journals of the first explorers of the Colombian Amazon, Theodor Koch-Grunberg and Richard Evans Schultes, the film had its world premiere at Cannes last May where it won the top prize in the Directors’ Fortnight section of the festival. It tells the epic story of the first contact, encounter, approach, betrayal and, eventually, life-transcending friendship, between Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman, last survivor of his people, and two scientists that, over the course of 40 years, travel through the Amazon in search of a sacred plant that can heal them.

Colombia has been submitting Oscar entries since 1980, and has never earned a nomination.

Watch the trailer:

[SEPTEMBER 17, 2015 - UPDATE] Mexico has selected Gabriel Ripstein’s debut feature 600 Miles as its Oscar contender for this year. The film, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival last month where it won the award for Best First Film (the second time in a row for a Mexican production, after Alonso Ruizpalacios' Güeros took the honors in the 2014 Berlinale), stars Tim Roth and Krystian Ferrer in the main roles.

600 Miles tells the story of Arnulfo Rubio (Ferrer), who smuggles weapons from Arizona to Mexico for a drug cartel, but he is being investigated by agent Harris (Roth). When agent Harris blows his covers, he and Arnulfo end up in a journey where he will be the hostage of this young criminal.

Mexico has been nominated eight times in the Foreign Language Film category -most recently in 2010 with Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful- but it has never win the statuette.

Watch the trailer:

[SEPTEMBER 10, 2015 - UPDATE] Brazil has just announced that the film The Second Mother / Que Horas Ela Volta? by Anna Muylaert will be representing the South American country at the 88th edition of the Academy Awards.

The film, which has received great critical acclaim in its U.S. theatrical run, is a fresh take on the classic upstairs/ downstairs theme. Starring Regina Casé, The Second Mother centers on a hard-working live-in housekeeper in Sao Paulo. Val is perfectly content to take care of every one of her wealthy employers’ needs, from cooking and cleaning to being a surrogate mother to their teenage son, who she has raised since he was a toddler. But when Val’s estranged daughter suddenly shows up, the unspoken class barriers within the home are thrown into disarray. Jessica is smart, confident, and ambitious, and refuses to accept the dynamic, testing loyalties and forcing everyone to reconsider what family really means.

Brazil has been submitting candidates to the Academy Awards since 1960, and has earned four Oscar nominations, the last time was in 1998 for Walter Salles’s Central Station.

Watch the trailer:

[SEPTEMBER 10, 2015 - UPDATE] Perú has selected the film NN, the second feature film by Héctor Gálvez, as its Oscar submission.

In NN -which stands for “Non Nomine,” the name under which bodies that can not be recognized or identified are classified- the remains of a male body who had presumably disappeared during the years of political violence in Peru have been exhumed but nobody claims them. Now the only clue to his identification is a picture of a smiling girl found in his shirt. Only a blurred photo, a snapshot of a moment in time and a memory.

The film stars Paul Vega, Isabel Gaona, and Antonieta Pari. Peru has been submitting candidates to the Oscars since 1967. In 2009 the South American country earned its first nomination, for Claudia Llosa’s The Milk of Sorrow / La teta asustada.

Watch the trailer:

[SEPTEMBER 9, 2015 - UPDATE]. Chile has announced today that El Club / The Club by Pablo Larraín will be representing the South American country at the 88th edition of the Academy Awards. This is the third time that a film directed by Larraín represents Chile at the Oscars, after Tony Manero in 2008, and No in 2010, which became the only Chilean film to have ever earn a nomination since the country started sending submissions in 1990.

The film, which had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival where it was awarded the Grand Jury Prize, tells the story of four former priests and  who live in a secluded house in a small seaside town. They have been sent to the quiet exile to purge the sins of their pasts, the separation from their communities the worst form of punishment by the Church. They keep to a strict daily schedule devoid of all temptation and spontaneity, each moment a deliberate effort to atone for their wrongdoings.

Their fragile stability is disrupted by the arrival of an emissary from the Vatican who seeks to understand the effects of their isolation, and a newly-disgraced housemate. Both bring with them the outside world from which the men have long been removed, and the secrets they had thought deeply buried.

The film starring Roberto Farías, Antonia Zegers, and Alfredo Castro, will be released in the U.S. by Music Box Films.

Watch the trailer:

[SEPTEMBER 7, 2015 - UPDATE] The Dominican Republic has selected Sand Dollars / Dólares de arena as its candidate for the Academy Awards. Directed by Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas and starring Geraldine Chaplin, the film becomes the eight film to be selected by the Caribbean island since 1983.

In Sand Dollars, Noelí, a young Dominican girl, goes to the beaches at Las Terrenas every afternoon Noelí. Along with her boyfriend, they look for ways to make a living at the expense of one of the hundreds of tourists that wander the beach. As people parade through her life, Noelí has a steady client, a mature French woman who, as time goes by, has found an ideal refuge on the island to spend her last years.

Noelí’s boyfriend feigns to be her brother and outlines a plan in which Noelí travels to Paris with the old lady and sends him money every month. For Noelí, the relationship with the old lady is one of convenience, but the feelings become more intense as the departure date closes in.

Watch the trailer:

[SEPTEMBER 3, 2015 - UPDATE] Paraguay has announced that it has selected the documentary film Cloudy Times / El tiempo nublado by Amari Ullón’s as its Oscar candidate, marking a first time for the South American country.

Cloudy Times is a very personal documentary by Ullón. For as long as the filmmaker can remember, her mother suffers from epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. As the only child of an absent father, Arami had to be responsible for herself and her mother at a very young age, what proved to be a very demanding situation. Then, several years ago, she could somehow cut the cord, as she found her own happiness in Switzerland, where she is living with her partner Patrick. Her mother is still living in Paraguay and Julia, an untrained help, cares for her around the clock for a modest salary.

However, her mother’s health is increasingly deteriorating. Julia can no longer cope with the situation and wants to quit her job. Since no one except Arami can look after her mother, she has to return to Paraguay. Will she be able to find a solution for her mother in a country, where the caretaking of the elderly is mainly up to their relatives? And if so, should she give up her happiness in Europe and go back to her mother?

Watch the trailer:

[SEPTEMBER 2, 2015 - UPDATE] Panama has announced today that the documentary film Caja 25 / Box 25 by Delfina Vidal and Mercedes Arias will be its Oscar contender for the Best Foreign Language Film category. The film tells the story of Panama’s long and fraught relationship with the US by focusing on a cache of recently discovered letters written by the men who actually built the Canal, describing brutal working conditions, rampant disease and discrimination, as well as enduring hopes and fascinating anecdotes.

This is the second time ever that Panama sends a candidate to the Oscar, after last year the Central American country submitted Abner Benaim’s Invasion.

Watch the trailer:

[SEPTEMBER 1, 2015 - UPDATE]  Venezuela is the second Latin American country to select its Oscar candidate, as the country announced today Dauna, lo que lleva el río / Gone With the River as its contender.

Directed by Cuban-born filmmaker Mario Crespo, the film tells the story of Dauna, a member of the Warao tribe of the Orinoco River delta. Her thirst for education is encouraged by her family and Father Julio. As Dauna grows, her desire to experience life beyond the river grows too. Tarcisio, her childhood sweetheart, supports her, but is tied to the traditional ways of the community. Dauna fears Tarcisio will succumb to what tradition dictates, thus thwarting her ambitions and dreams.

The film had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival last February. Venezuela has sent submissions to the Oscars since 1978, but has yet to earn a nomination. Last year’s candidate The Liberator by Alberto Arvelo made it to the shortlist.

Watch the trailer:

Guatemala has become the first Latin American country to select its candidate for the 88th edition of the Academy Awards in the Foreign-Language Film competition. The Central American country has selected Jayro Bustamante’s acclaimed debut feature film Ixcanul as its official candidate.

The film which had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival last February where it was awarded with the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize, tells the story of Maria, a 17 year old Mayan woman, who lives on the slopes of an active volcano in Guatemala. An arranged marriage awaits her. Although Maria dreams of seeing 'the city', her status as an indigenous woman does not allow her to go out into that 'modern world'. Later, during a pregnancy complication, this modern world will save her life, but at what price.

This is the second time that Guatemala picks an Oscar candidate. In 1994 Luis Argueta’s coming of age drama El silencio del Neto / The Silence of Neto was selected to represent the country.

Watch the trailer: