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International acclaim

The wholehearted embrace of this year's nominees signals a new level of acceptance -- not just by the academy but by the moviegoing public as well.

January 24, 2007|Rachel Abramowitz | Times Staff Writer

WHEN Guillermo del Toro arrived in Hollywood in the '90s, the Mexican filmmaker was showered with scripts about "bullfighters and mariachis." He remembers being "puzzled" by Hollywood's behavior. As he put it, "Would you give David Cronenberg a screenplay about the Mountie Police in Canada?"

Ten years later, Del Toro's film, the Spanish-language "Pan's Labyrinth," was nominated not only for best foreign-language film, but also in five other categories that usually don't incline toward the non-American, including screenplay and score. It's a film that critics, audiences and now the academy have wholeheartedly embraced in a way that seems to signal a new kind of acceptance for international films.

With his fellow nominees in the foreign-language category as well as other international efforts in the best film category, Del Toro is demonstrating how international directors have exploded ethnic and national stereotypes to provide some of the more adventuresome films of the year. They've done so by tackling subjects as diverse as a little girl's fantasy life in Franco-era Spain, the experience of Algerian soldiers in WWII and the moral awaking of a Stassi officer in East Germany.

The other films nominated for best foreign-language film were Denmark's "After the Wedding," Germany's "The Lives of Others," Algeria's "Days of Glory" and Canada's "Water," which was shot entirely in Hindi by the Toronto-based Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta. (It was such a strong year that, to the surprise of many, the academy passed over "Volver," from perennial favorite Pedro Almovodar.)

Jonathan Sehring, president of IFC, the indie releasing "After the Wedding," and co-releasing "Days of Glory," said he sensed a change. "I think the academy and American audiences have gotten over the hump in terms of subtitles. Filmmaking is not just an American pastime. It's a global pastime, and some of the greatest filmmakers working today are not American filmmakers," Sehring said.

"Pan's Labyrinth" -- about a girl in fascist Spain -- is on its way to becoming the bestselling Spanish-language film of all time, and has already grossed $35 million around the world. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's directorial debut, "The Lives of Others," has already barnstormed through Europe, racking up major awards -- at the European Film Awards, the German Film Awards, as well the London Film Festival and the Locarno Film Festival -- and it doesn't open in the U.S. until February.

On Tuesday, Del Toro awoke in his L.A. home at 3:30 am and watched "The Wild Bunch" on TV until the nominations announcement started at 5:15. "It's a thrilling and insanely beautiful morning," he said. "After the Wedding" director Susanne Bier waited for the announcements in her New York apartment, sitting on the bed and telling herself, "It's OK, I'm not going to get nominated."

Henckel von Donnersmarck was watching CNN from Paris, where he'd gone for the French premiere of his movie. "It was just a sports show, and when finally it did appear, the whole thing went so fast," he said. "If these people realized with one little word they were changing people's lives, Salma Hayek and Sid Ganis wouldn't be speaking so quickly."

"Days of Glory" director Rachid Bouchareb was at home in Paris working with a screenwriter on his next film, a comedy set in the Arab American Muslim community. Through a translator, Bouchareb said that his film has resonated "because of the war in Iraq. What the film shows and history has forgotten is that Muslims and their French compatriots fought together against the Nazi enemy. There can be a commonality between fellow Muslims and other faiths."

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