Oscars 2021: the Eastern European and Central Asian films to watch out for

Oscars 2021: the Eastern European and Central Asian films to watch out for

15 December 2020
Top image: still from Atlantis, dir. Valentin Vasyanovich (2019)

25 films from Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia could be in the running for the 2021 Academy Awards.

Next year’s iteration of the Oscars is set to take place on 25 April 2021. Submissions for the category of Best International Feature Film have closed, and this year’s submissions include 25 films from Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Caucasus competing for nomination. From Slovakia to Kyrgyzstan, historical dramas prevail amongst the titles, yet alternative, arthouse films focused on singular, individual stories also stand out. Here are our highlights from the region’s submissions.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Quo Vadis, Aida?

Director: Jasmila Žbanić

Srebrenica, July 1995. Aida works as a translator for the UN. When the Bosnian Serb Army takes over the town, Aida’s family is amongst the thousands seeking refuge in UN camps. As Aida gets access to undisclosed information, she faces serious decisions that determine the future of her loved ones, but put her in grave danger. Although presented to The Academy as the submission for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Quo Vadis, Aida? is an international co-production that offers a profoundly honest, hour-by-hour, and emotionally raw take on one of Europe’s darkest, unexplained recent histories.

Georgia: Beginning

Director: Dea Kulumbegashvili

In its recent festival run, first-time director Dea Kulumbegashvili’s Beginning was lauded by critics and audiences worldwide. This much-anticipated arthouse film tells the story of Yana, the wife of the religious leader of a community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in rural Georgia. A fire in their community’s temple, provoked by violent extremists, unleashes chaos in their community as the film follows Yana’s inner struggles in her marriage and patriarchal community. Beginning was a special hit at the 2020 San Sebastián Film Festival, where it scooped the festival’s top prize, the Golden Shell, as well as Best Director for Kulumbegashvili, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay, making the film a strong contender in the Oscars that could earn Georgia its second ever win.

Romania: Collective

Director: Alexander Nanau

On 30 October 2015, a fire broke out in Colectiv, a nightclub in Bucharest. The flames that engulfed the crowds left 27 dead and over 180 injured, and in the weeks that followed the accident, a further 37 people died from non-life threatening wounds — a result of the hospitals’ negligence. After the incident, filmmaker Alexander Nanau began following journalists at Gazeta Sporturilor, a sports newspaper where some of its writers started to question the government’s responsibility in the fire. In the years that followed, the team of journalists opened a Pandora’s Box that unveiled a web of corruption in the healthcare system in Romania. Powerful, intense, and brave, Nanau’s Collective is a day-by-day, gripping portrayal of how a small team of journalists, relying on tireless investigations, witnesses, and whistleblowers, unveiled how one of the biggest tragedies in Romania’s recent history was inextricably linked to the country’s political elites.

Ukraine: Atlantys

Director: Valentin Vasyanovich

The title of Valentyn Vasnyanovych’s film may honour the Ancient Greek myth about an ideal state, but on screen, Atlantis itself offers no peaceful utopia. Set in a fictional post-war Ukraine of the future, the film tells the story of Sergiy, a veteran who joins a team of volunteer grave diggers in a bid to soothe his own PTSD. Even the desolate landscape where he works soon becomes more than just a backdrop as the film unravels both the personal and environmental consequences of the war. The film premiered in 2019 at the Toronto International Film Festival and won Best Film award in the Horizons section at the 76th Venice International Film Festival, accolades which make the Ukrainian Oscar Committee confident of its potential success at the upcoming Oscars.

Russia: Dear Comrades!

Director: Andrei Konchalovsky

Konchalovsky, who is a third-time representative of his country on the Oscar stage, has submitted a historical drama that recreates the events of 1962, when the Russian government ordered the mass shooting of striking workers in a factory in Novocherkassk. The story is told through the perspective of a party activist. Similar in genre to last year’s Oscars submission Beanpole, by Kantemir Balagovm but executed in a wholly different style, Dear Comrades! is among the strongest entries for Best International Feature. Shot in black and white, in a square aspect ratio, this is a captivating arthouse look into a controversial, lesser-known episode in Russia’s late Soviet history.

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