In 2007, a low-budget feature by a first-time German director, "Das Leben der Anderen" won Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars. Over the next 10 weeks, the film better known to English-speaking audiences as "The Lives of Others" brought in $8.2m at the US box office.
The film's star, the late Ulrich Mühe, became hot property in tinseltown but sadly died before he could translate the interest of Hollywood agents into international stardom. The film's director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, now lives in LA and is currently considering his next project. If the experiences of his fellow countryman Oliver Hirschbiegel are anything to go by, it could be a big budget Hollywood movie. Hirschbiegel was nominated in 2004 for "Downfall" and recently directed "The Invasion" starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.
The stories of former winners and nominees offer a window into the power of the Best Foreign Language film award. It can transform careers and at its best it can act as a conduit, helping subtitled films out of the foreign-language, arthouse ghetto into the mainstream.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of this phenomenon is Taiwanese director Ang Lee's Mandarin martial arts blockbuster, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." It won the award in 2000 and a further three Oscars including Best Director for Lee. The film went on to take more than $128m at the box office and left Lee with the world at his feet.
The global film community was buzzing with the film's extraordinary success. Could it be the vanguard for a new wave of foreign films? Were English-language audiences finally ready for subtitled features? The predicted influx of world cinema never materialized, and -- in the U.S. at least -- the "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" phenomenon fizzled. In 2005, just 10 foreign-language films had ticket sales of more than $1m. Read full article »