January 20, 2019

Israeli Film Fails to Make Oscars Shortlist

A scene from Israel’s first Oscar-nominated film, “Sallah” (1964)

Israel’s more than half-century courtship to win an Oscar for best foreign language film has been akin to the tale of an attractive young woman, often chosen as a bridesmaid, but never as a bride.

Since submitting its first entry and earning its first nomination — “Sallah” in 1964 — Israel has made the shortlist of top nominees 10 times, without ever catching the Oscar bouquet.

This year, tribal boosters can stop biting their fingernails anticipating the outcome. Israel’s entry “The Cakemaker,” a challenging film about bisexual affairs between German and Israeli lovers, was eliminated in the first round.

The list of nine semifinalists among entries from 87 countries, announced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Dec. 17, didn’t include the Israeli entry.

Since submitting its first entry and earning its first nomination — “Sallah” in 1964 — Israel has made the short list of top nominees 10 times, without ever catching the Oscar bouquet.

However, Israel has some lofty company among snubbed contenders. Looking at the entire history of the Academy Awards, the three countries that lead in the number of both nominees and winners in the foreign language category — Italy, France and Spain — all missed the cut this year.

Yet if the themes chosen by a country’s filmmakers reflect in some ways the interests of their movie-going public, the world’s fascination with the Holocaust, World War II and their aftermaths, has never been higher.

This year, eight countries submitted films that deal directly or indirectly with the fate of Europe’s Jews during their darkest period, including Austria, France, Holland, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Switzerland.

None of these countries’ films made the shortlist, but of particular interest is Russia’s “Sobibor,” centering on the 1943 uprising in the notorious concentration camp, and Romania’s oddly named “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians,” which focuses on the massacre of Odessa’s Jews by the Romanian military.

The list of the nine semifinalists will be winnowed to five and the nominees announced on Jan. 22. The winner will clutch the golden statuette at the Oscar ceremony on Feb. 24.