International Oscar Showdown 2008 — No Country For Old Men vs The Counterfeiters

The 80th Academy Awards winners for Best Picture and Best International Feature Film were No Country For Old Men and The Counterfeiters
Poster for the film No Country For Old Men
Poster for the film No Country For Old Men
The Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men
A comparison between No Country For Old Men (above) and Raising Arizona (below)

No fun at all

The Academy rarely awards comedies with Best Picture, so it’s no surprise that the Coen Brothers’ only triumph is their most mirthless film. Devoid of levity, No Country deals solely in violence and suspense.

Death from the shadows

Bardem’s performance is especially impressive given that, once the unnerving nature of the character is established, one of Anton’s most frightening sequences is performed completely unseen — as shadows under a door, or the flash of a gun’s muzzle in the night. He stalks his prey, and mere glimpses are enough to put you on edge.

Texan cajones

I think the main thing people took from this film, besides Bardem’s freakishly oppressive performance, is how Brolin’s Moss reacts with uncanny resolve in the face of danger — a real man’s man. Case in point, when Moss scrambles from a river while being chased by an attack dog, he knows he has to dismantle his gun, dry it as best he can in the seconds he has spare, reassemble it and then fire just as the dog leaps to sink its teeth into his limbs. The excitement is elevated by Moss’s methodical pragmatism.

The genuine article

Up against No Country For Old Men is the only Austrian film ever to win Best-Foreign Language Film at the Oscars: The Counterfeiters. The story is loosely based on true events, about a man arrested in Nazi Germany for forging ID documents, sent to a concentration camp, and then forced to help the Nazis in their bid to destabilise enemy economies by flooding them with fake currency.

Stefan Ruzowitzky’s The Counterfeiters

Honour among forgers

Sally’s arc progresses from selfish survival to reluctant revolutionary, perpetually treading the line between working for the Nazis and protecting those who would undermine them. Though arrogant, he has a good heart, and uses his position to curry favour for his team when they flounder, and bargains with Herzog to acquire drugs for a young boy in the team infected with TB.

Shutting out reality

Much like lauded classic Life Is Beautiful — about which I spoke with Juan Carlos Ojano on the One-Inch Barrier podcast — the film builds a bubble around its characters in the midst of the genocide. For Life Is Beautiful, this bubble is a fantasy of Guido’s devising, to protect his son from the horrors of reality. In The Counterfeiters, it is the bubble of the favoured inmates, eating well, dressed in clean clothes, and given a ping-pong table as reward for perfecting the sterling bank note.

My conversation with Juan Carlos Ojano about Life Is Beautiful for the One-Inch Barrier Podcast

Retrospective result

I didn’t know which film would win when I started writing this showdown and had to come to my conclusion in the process of it. But now I am of no doubt that The Counterfeiters should triumph. There is so much to this film — it haunts you as much as it inspires you, makes you think as much as it makes you feel, and it has been one of my favourites of the Foreign-Language Film winners so far.

Writer of stories, movie reviews, and sundry other whims. Also a sub-editor, so you are welcome to shout at me about typos.

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