Romania and Tunisia Cheer First Oscar Nominations, as Hong Kong’s ‘Better Days’ Triumphs After Long Road

Early reactions to this year’s best international feature film Oscar nominees are in, and Romania and Tunisia are jubilant for their first Academy Awards nominations, respectively, for “Collective” and “The Man Who Sold His Skin.”

The Venice Film Festival-premiering “The Man Who Sold His Skin,” which gained steam late in the game, is also being applauded for its female director, Kaouther Ben Hania, who marks her second feature.

Alexander Nanau’s “Collective,” instead, has the rare distinction of scoring Oscar nominations in both the international feature film and documentary feature categories

Other contenders for best international feature film include Denmark’s “Another Round,” Hong Kong’s “Better Days” and “Quo Vadis, Aida?” from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Another Round” director Thomas Vinterberg told Variety in an email that the nomination for his Mads Mikkelsen-starring film is “wonderful news.”

“Thank you very much to the Academy, and congratulations to my fellow nominees. I’m honored to be in your company. I’ve made some films over the years, but none of them have meant so much to me as this one,” he said.

“During a long journey like this, it matters most to be surrounded by great collaborators who are also great friends.My actors, Mads, my co-writer Tobias, Sturla my DOP, my producers from Zentropa and the amazing behind the scenes talent were all on this journey with me and gave all they had. Thank you from Denmark.”

Meanwhile, Monday’s Oscar nomination marks a victorious moment already for “Better Days.”

From being pulled out of the 2019 Berlin Film Festival for unexplained reasons, through multiple release cancellations, on to eventual box office triumph and, finally, an Oscar nomination, director Derek Tsang has had a long and rocky ride.

Contacted by Variety on Monday, Tsang was said to be in shock and putting off all interviews until the morning.

The film is a powerful melodrama that mixes up a school bullying tale with a story of mismatched love. That’s an uncomfortable cocktail that was almost certainly too heady for mainland Chinese authorities who are eternally vigilant about protecting the country’s image.

However, once it was allowed to release some eight months later, and was seen to be lapped up by critics and upmarket audiences, “Better Days” was allowed to play at foreign film festivals, and rights were widely licensed. Sales agent We Distribution says that France, so often the first country to welcome overseas art, is the only major territory still unsold.

One other matter that remains unresolved, and is certain to provoke further debate, is whether the film should rightly be representing Hong Kong. Tsang hails from Hong Kong, but the film is entirely set in China and its two superb leads, Zhou Dongyu and pop idol-turned-actor Jackson Yee, are both mainlanders. China, instead, selected “Leap,” a film with a far more patriotic message. But, then again, both “Leap” and “Better Days” count Hong Kongers Peter Chan Ho-sun and Jojo Hui as producers.

Elsewhere, Italy, though snubbed in both the best international feature film and documentary fields, cheered its three Oscar nominations with Matteo Garrone’s “Pinocchio” scoring in the costume design and best makeup and hairstyling categories, and a best original song nod for “Io Si (Seen)” for Sophia Loren-starrer “The Life Ahead.”

More to come. 

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