top of page

March 5, 2024


With the Oscars fast approaching, and popular titles like Oppenheimer, Barbie, and Poor Things (rightfully) receiving their share of attention as they collect wins, I thought now would be as good a time as any to talk about two of the Academy’s lesser appreciated categories: Best International Feature and Best Documentary Feature.

Considering most of the Best Documentary Feature nominees also are international, this piece provides a great opportunity to highlight a collection of nominated films from outside North America. International titles, both narrative fiction and documentary alike, offer viewers new perspectives on filmmaking, different cultures, and the lives of those living outside the bubble of the Western world. Maybe more so than anything, the general idea of a new perspective is one of the core factors that makes me fall for these types of films.

As with every category, the Academy can only nominate so many films per year, so while I really loved About Dry Grasses, Monster, and, most notably, Anatomy of a Fall last year, a nomination just wasn’t in the cards for them. However, that in no way diminishes what the films below were able to accomplish. If you have the time, I’d recommend you give them (or any international or documentary feature, for that matter) a chance, if for no other reason than to expand your horizons and to gain a better understanding of the world.



Starring: Seydou Sarr and Moustapha Fall Director: Matteo Garrone 

Plot: A Homeric fairy tale that tells the adventurous journey of two young boys, Seydou (Sarr) and Moussa (Fall), who leave Dakar to reach Europe.

Io Capitano is a film that is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, but personally, I found it to be fairly forgettable. It's very easy to root for the protagonist, excellently played by Seydou Sarr in a breakthrough performance, but the film has an absurd tendency to jump from one obstacle to the next too quickly, which leaves a lot of it feeling a little weightless. The film’s beautifully shot aesthetics are generally undermined by how detached I felt emotionally, and despite the film's best efforts to pull me in, the big finale didn't hit me the way it should have. 


Starring: Enzo Vogrincic, Matías Recalt, Agustín Pardella, Felipe Otaño, Luciano Chattón, Valentino Alonso, Francisco Romero, Agustín Berrutti, Andy Pruss, Simón Hempe, Juan Caruso, Esteban Bigliardi, Rocco Posca, Esteban Kukuriczka, Rafael Federman, Manuela Olivera, Agustín Della Corte, and Tomas Wolf Director: J.A. Bayona

Plot: The flight of a rugby team crashes on a glacier in the Andes. The few passengers who survive the crash find themselves in one of the world's toughest environments to survive. Based on a true story.


Similarly to Io Capitano, Society of the Snow tends to go in circles as it shows the protagonists experiencing one obstacle after another. Unlike Io Capitano, however, Society of the Snow is intense, claustrophobic, and successful in telling its miraculous true story with the power that is necessary. The film is gruelling to get through, courtesy of excellent direction from J.A. Bayona and outstanding sound and production design. Somehow, it manages to make you feel like you're smack dab in the middle of the freezing cold, which means when the ending finally arrives, it arrives with a massive sigh of relief. Society of the Snow may be flawed, but it is a powerful film, nonetheless. 



Starring: Leonie Benesch, Leonard Stettnisch, Eva Löbau, Michael Klammer, Rafael Stachowiak, Sarah Bauerett, Kathrin Wehlisch, and Anne-Kathrin Gummich Director: Ilker Çatak


Plot: When one of her students is suspected of theft, teacher Carla Nowak (Benesch) decides to get to the bottom of the matter. Caught between her ideals and the school system, the consequences of her actions threaten to break her.


For the majority of The Teachers' Lounge, I might have said that it was my favourite of the nominees discussed in this article. From the outset, the film gives way to a faux sense of inviting atmosphere, only for the film to take a drastic turn. One accusation, whether true or false, turns the film into a white-knuckle thrill ride fuelled by a brilliant series of misunderstandings and cruelty. Ilker Çatak's direction is spectacular, as are the performances of Leonie Benesch and Leonard Stettnisch. Then the ending happens. Without giving anything away, and while there is an argument that its lack of payoff and clarity is part of the point, it’s far too unsatisfying for the amount of tension that was built up. 


Starring: Kôji Yakusho Director: Wim Wenders


Plot: Hirayama (Yakusho) cleans public toilets in Tokyo, living his life in simplicity and daily tranquillity. Some encounters also lead him to reflect on himself.


Perfect Days is one of those films that requires patience, but, boy, is that patience rewarded. Overall, it’s an exploration of how beautiful the mundane can be. Or, perhaps a simpler way to describe it is to call it the film version of the phrase "it's the little things that matter." Throughout the film, despite the less-than-ideal nature of Hirayama’s (played with brilliant nuance by Kôji Yakusho) life, we see the beauty in what brings him joy, whether that's in repetition or the small divergences in his day-to-day. The film certainly features emotional hardship, but Perfect Days is a love letter to life that's sure to touch the soul. 


Starring: Sandra Hüller, Christian Friedel, Medusa Knopf, Daniel Holzberg, Sascha Maaz, Max Beck, Wolfgang Lampl, Johann Karthaus, and Ralph Herforth Director: Jonathan Glazer


Plot: Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss (Friedel) and his wife, Hedwig (Hüller), strive to build a dream life for their family in a house and garden beside the camp.


If Perfect Days shows us that our day-to-day can be beautiful, The Zone of Interest shows the flip side - that true evil can hide behind the mundane nature of our lives. This is a movie that, the more I ponder it, the more it blows me away. Every detail of Jonathan Glazer's exquisitely crafted masterpiece is designed to suck us into the film's haunting analysis of the walls we put up to justify our comfort and shield us from the horrors of the world. Every time I learn something new about the film's production, I get more and more impressed with the level of immersion that was accomplished (for example, I only recently learned that the crew left the set, leaving only the actors and still cameras during shooting). I believe it's only a matter of time before The Zone of Interest's legacy as a work of genius is cemented. BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE



Director: Maite Alberdi


Plot: Augusto and Paulina have been together for 25 years. Eight years ago, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. They both fear the day he no longer recognizes her. 


The Eternal Memory can evoke strong emotions, especially, I imagine, if you have dealt with a loved one suffering from Alzheimer's. As someone whose been lucky enough not to have gone through that myself, I found that when the film focuses entirely on the central couple, it is at an emotional peak, to include the very heartbreaking ending. That said, the film is extremely lopsided in its presentation. For example, when the film decides to focus on the couple's careers, I was emotionally detached and started not to care. I can't deny what the film can elicit in its more emotional moments, but it could've been better had it been more focused. 



Director: Christopher Sharp and Moses Bwayo


Plot: Follows Ugandan opposition leader, activist, and musical star Bobi Wine. He used his music to fight the regime led by Yoweri Museveni, the person who led the country for 35 years.


There are documentaries that, even when the presentation is weak, the power and urgency of the subject at hand make the film a worthwhile watch. Bobi Wine: The People’s President is just that. However, while Bobi Wine’s personal story is powerful, the film’s true power comes from the devastation of Uganda's political landscape, which shows the true horrors of its dictatorship. Those moments are the most crucial, but the movie spends too much time on Wine's life and upbringing through very questionable stylistic decisions that it begins to lessen its impact. Again, it's a hard film not to recommend due to its subject, but I can't ignore the clear flaws.



Director: Nisha Pahuja


Plot: Ranjit, a farmer in India, takes on the fight of his life when he demands justice for his 13-year-old daughter, the victim of a brutal gang rape. His decision to support his daughter is virtually unheard of, and his journey unprecedented.


A documentary is most powerful when you can feel yourself becoming a different person as you watch it, and To Kill a Tiger succeeds in that. As I watched this father's fight for justice, I felt myself getting physically enraged by what I was seeing on screen. Beyond the film's insight into the sexual assault epidemic in India, the film also gives a look at life in an Indian village, in some ways that aren't pretty. By the end, the film prompted such a powerful and instant reaction that I was brought to tears. If I had to make one criticism, I would say some of the subplots are underdeveloped, so they didn't grab me as much as the central story. Still, though, To Kill a Tiger is a film I would absolutely call necessary viewing.



Director: Mstyslav Chernov


Plot: As the Russian invasion begins, a team of Ukrainian journalists trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol struggle to continue their work documenting the war's atrocities.


At the time of this writing, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began more than two years ago. 20 Days in Mariupol is perhaps the most gruelling and depressingly accurate depiction of what life in Ukraine has been and, tragically, still is like. Watching the film unfold, you feel the gravity of war at its most impactful, as this team of journalists bravely use what little resources they have to craft a tour-de-force of documentary filmmaking. It’s a tough viewing experience, I can't possibly deny that, but I can't think of a better film to demonstrate the horrors of the Ukraine invasion than 20 Days in Mariupol.



Director: Kaouther Ben Hania


Plot: Between light and darkness stands Olfa, a Tunisian woman and the mother of four daughters. One day, her two older daughters disappear. Filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania invites professional actresses to fill in their absence.


Wherever you stand on Four Daughters, you can't deny that it's the most interesting style of documentary filmmaking of the five nominees. Its approach never feels like a gimmick, and it truly does enhance our view of the subjects, from both an educational and emotional standpoint. Many moments in the film brought me to tears, as the subjects are fully able to cope with what happened, the way the remaining daughters’ mother raised them, and how it possibly led to the two eldest daughters no longer being with them. The final reveal is truly heartbreaking, making Four Daughters a fascinating film, especially at its most devastating points.

bottom of page