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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

entry arrow4:15 PM | 1993 Best Foreign Language Film Reloaded: How to Be a Wartime Poet

Part 3 of a Series

Of all five contenders to the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 1993, there was only one film in the course of that Oscar season that I hadn't seen, simply because it was impossible to get. That would be Paul Turner's Hedd Wyn, the first Welsh film to be nominated for an Oscar. (They would make a repeat of that nomination six years later, in 1999, with Paul Morrison's Solomon and Gaenor.) The United Kingdom had begun sending non-English entries to the Oscars two years prior, in 1991, and Hedd Wyn would be their second entry after skipping a year. I had always believed that its nomination was borne out of some curiosity in the Academy: the United Kingdom sending in an entry for Best Foreign Language Film. Seeing it now for the first time, my old suspicions ring true.

It helped, of course, that Turner's is a well-made film -- safe and non-controversial in the way the British makes them. (Think The King's Speech.) It also has lyrical poetry and a brutal war -- two things that shout "prestige!" Hedd Wyn is basically the story of the real-life Welsh poet Ellis Humphrey Evans, known more popularly in Wales as the titular name. A poet made of country stock and sensibilities, he soon came to prominence with his heady verses that proved critically popular. But his nascent rise in the local writing world coincided with the outbreak of World War I. A pacifist who did not believe in killing other people, our dear poet resisted enlisting -- which proved an unpopular stance in his small town. He does eventually make it to the trenches, and the scenes of his battlefield death [this is not a spoiler: the film begins with this, and dips into it at length] is spliced beautifully with his winning one of Wales' biggest literary prize. (The film actually made me realise how you can stage a low-budget war by employing mostly close-ups and smokescreen and the sound of mortar and gunfire.) It is basically the Welsh version of All Quiet on the Western Front complete with its anti-war sentimentality. Handsomely made, it is however more stuffy Masterpiece Theatre for me than something that should be considerably breaking new ground in cinematic arts. In other words, it is much too safe and genteel, and belongs right in there with the best of Hallmark films -- an uncompelling treatment of a supposedly important subject. It is still watchable, but it has not aged well.

Next: Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine...

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