May 20, 2019

Oscar nominations: Holocaust themes and Jewish talent

The 2016 Oscar nominations are out and, beneath the best picture and best actor headlines, this year’s nods uncover and confirm two Jewish themes.

More than 70 years after the killing of 6 million Jews came to an end, there is no sign of “Holocaust fatigue” among global filmmakers and their audiences.

And, although the film industry, in Hollywood and elsewhere, is no longer as “Jewish” as in past decades, the extent of Jewish talent, in front of and behind the cameras, is impressive.

Each of 80 countries submitted its top movie for the best foreign-language film Oscar this year. Among the five finalists is Hungary’s “Son of Saul,” which, according to critical consensus, is the favorite to win the Academy Award. Winner of this year’s Golden Globe and the Grand Prix at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, the film’s central character is Saul Auslander. He is a member of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz-Birkenau, forced to cremate the bodies of fellow prisoners gassed by the SS. As he goes about his ghastly task, he thinks he recognizes one body, which unexpectedly survived the gas chamber for a few minutes, as that of his son.

As the Sonderkommando men plan a rebellion, Saul vows that he will save the child’s body from the flames and find a rabbi to say Kaddish in a proper funeral.

“Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah,” directed by Adam Benzine (not Jewish), is in the running for best documentary short. It dissects French director Lanzmann’s epic, nine-hour documentary “Shoah,” which was 11 years in the making and was released in 1985.

Germany’s entry into the foreign-language film category, “Labyrinth of Lies,” which deals with the aftermath of the Holocaust in the land of its perpetrators, failed to make the final short list.

As a footnote, the Israeli entry, “Baba Joon,” and the Palestinian “The Wanted 18” did not survive the first round of eliminations, while Jordan scored its first Oscar nomination with “Theeb,” set during World War I.

Now for the Oscar-nominated Members of the Tribe:

Leading the list of co-producers for best motion picture of the year are Steven Spielberg for “Bridge of Spies,” Israel-native Arnon Milchan for “The Revenant” and Michael Sugar for “Spotlight.”

A non-exhaustive list of other Jewish nominees for Academy Award honors includes:

Best director: Ireland’s Leonard (Lenny) Abrahamson for the drama-thriller “Room.”

Best original screenplay: As in some years past, this category is practically a Jewish monopoly, including Ethan and Joel Coen for “Bridge of Spies”; Josh Singer for “Spotlight”; and Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff for “Straight Outta Compton.”

Best cinematographer: Emmanuel Lubezki for “The Revenant.” Born in Mexico as Emmanuel Lubezki Morgenstern, he previously won an Oscar for “Gravity.”

Best animated short film: Don Hertzfeldt for “World of Tomorrow.” He also directed a Jewish-themed segment for TV’s “The Simpsons.”

Oscar winners will triumphantly hoist the 8 1/2-pound statuette on Feb. 28 in a glamour-packed ceremony, to be seen by an estimated 37 million American TV viewers and beamed to some 225 countries and territories around the globe.