Now Playing! Oscar’s Foreign-Language Submissions at the Rafael

Margaret Mulubwa appears in 'I Am Not A Witch' by Rungano Nyoni. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

Odds are you went to the movies over the holidays. Your multiplex wish list, most likely, consisted of Hollywood pictures. Perhaps you gave a passing thought to the Academy Awards, as in, “That was the best picture I saw all year and it oughta win a little gold statuette.” But what about all the excellent films from other countries, which maybe play once or twice in a local festival and disappear? How much great stuff does even the avid moviegoer miss?

The cream of global cinema, by and large, turns up in the official submissions to the Academy Awards’ race for Best Foreign Language Film. You could set up camp at the Palm Springs International Film Festival (Jan. 3–14), which screens as many of the 87 titles as it can get its hands on. Or you could simply roll to the Smith Rafael Film Center in downtown San Rafael, which has selected 14 films for its annual For Your Consideration series beginning Friday, Jan. 4.

Still from 'Yomeddine,' directed by A.B. Shawky.
Still from 'Yomeddine,' directed by A.B. Shawky. (© Desert Highway Pictures)

A couple of the films, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s The Wild Pear Tree (Turkey) and Matteo Garrone’s Dogman (Italy), are the latest human-scale works by prizewinning directors who would have been assured of U.S. distribution once upon a time. Just as intriguing, however, are films from and about places (Indonesia, Egypt, Zambia, Paraguay) that never grace American screens.

Rungano Nyuni’s bracing debut, I Am Not a Witch, revolves around a nine-year-old Zambian girl compelled to embrace—or perhaps reject—the titular declaration. Confidently bridging genres and shifting tones, the U.K.-submitted film addresses women’s struggles without resorting to polemics. The Indonesian heroine of Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts also comes face to face with her own moral dilemma, after fighting off a rapist.

A.B. Shawky’s gently humanist fable, Yomeddine, transports us on a desert sojourn with an Egyptian widower and a Nubian orphan. And relationships are also at the center of Macedonian director Gjorce Stavreski’s dark comedy, Secret Ingredient, which spins outward from a well-meaning son administering (illegal) medical marijuana to his father. What a world, eh?

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