March 31, 2020

‘Son of Saul’ wins Oscar for Foreign Language Film

Jewish talent received a fair share of recognition and the Holocaust-themed “Son of Saul” beat entries from 80 countries to win the Oscar for best foreign-language film, but overall the Sunday evening Academy Awards show in Hollywood skipped the light touch and Jewish jokes in favor of some deep soul-searching.

Triggered by a shutout of non-white (and generally non-Anglo-Saxon) nominees in the prestigious acting categories and spurred by a high-profile Diversity Campaign, there was a heavy, and justifiable, emphasis on the lack of black performers and other artists for the second year in a row.

In addition, Oscar winning films ranged across such themes as the Catholic Church’s cover-up of pedophile priests, and “honor” killings of women in Pakistan. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke out against sexual abuse on college campuses and best actor winner Leonardo DiCaprio pitched for climate change awareness.

“Son of Saul,” entered by Hungary and centering on a member of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz-Birkenau, forced to lead fellow Jews into the gas chambers and cremate their remains, was the favorite to top the field, and did not disappoint

Sharing in the film’ success were director Laszlo Nemes, actor Geza Rohrig, Hungary’s film fund which underwrote most of the $1.6 million budget, and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which contributed $50,000.

In his acceptance speech, Nemes observed that “even in the darkest hour of mankind, there might be a voice within us that allows us to remain human.”

Gabor Sipor, the film’s producer, contrasted Hungary’s underwriting of the film to such “less anti-Semitic” countries as Germany, France and Israel, which had turned down requests for support.

Emerging as the winner among 124 contenders for best documentary feature was “Amy,” a British film on singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, described by her brother as “a little Jewish kid from North London with a big talent.” Her meteoric career and tortured life were cut short at 27 through drug abuse and alcohol poisoning.

In addition, while accepting his adapted screenplay Oscar for “The Big Short,” the film's co-author, Charles Randolph, gave a shout-out to his wife, Israeli actress Mili Avital, by telling her “ani ohev otach” (“I love you” in Hebrew).

Other Jewish Oscar winners in major categories included:

Michael Sugar as co-producer of “Spotlight,” the best picture winner. In his remarks, he observed “This film gives a voice to survivors and this Oscar amplifies the voice which we hope will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican. Pope Francis, it’s time to protect the children and restore the faith.”

Best original screenplay: Josh Singer (with Tom McCarthy), also for “Spotlight.”

Best cinematographer: Emmanuel Lubezki for “The Revenant.” This was the third year in a row that the Mexican citizen won the prize. American-Israeli Arnon Milchan was the film’s co-producer.

Veteran Academy Award observers noted the absence of the old-time Jewish jokes, as when emcee Bob Hope, who never received an acting award, lamented that in his house the Oscar award ceremony was known as “Passover.”

It was left to brash comedienne Sarah Silverman, one of the award presenters, to uphold the tradition by squeezing into her few sentences a reference to “meshuggah” and a supposed preference by the fictional James Bond for “Jewish women with big boobs.”