Global triumph

As the World Cinema Award marks its second birthday with a dazzling shortlist, Roger Clarke assesses the competition
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The Independent Culture

This year, The Independent joins the BBC as a media partner for the World Cinema Award 2005. Jonathan Ross will chair the jury and present the award live on BBC4. Of the shortlisted films, Ross says: "There's more foreign talent here than in the Premiership - let's hope that the standard of refereeing is a little better!" On Thursday 27 January, the winning director will be presented with this prestigious prize before an invited audience at The Electric Cinema in London's Notting Hill.

BBC4 has become the first stop for world cinema on television. This award was seen as a logical next step - and its inauguration, screened last year as a low-key studio event, proved a success. The winning film was Belleville Rendez-Vous. Sylvain Chomet, the animated film's director, has subsequently relocated to Edinburgh. Of the six films on this year's shortlist, two actually date from 2002, but such are the vagaries of distribution, it was only last year that they turned up on our shores.

Hero, by Zhang Yimou, is one of these. It is the story of three assassins sent to polish off the Emperor of China, and was Zhang Yimou's first foray into martial arts and "wire-fu" movies, after a long career of making more conventional art-house movies such as Raise the Red Lantern and The Story of Qiu Ju. Hero features the Asian superstars Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung as assassins, and the cinematography by the Australian Chris Doyle had audiences swooning.

The Japanese actioner Zatoichi is the second Asian movie under consideration. The story is based on a fixture of Japanese TV pop culture from the 1960s, the eponymous blind samurai. Takeshi Kitano acts and directs, and this was his biggest box-office hit in his home country. He has abandoned his usual cool directorial style to make it - for example, instructing that blood should be made to "look like flowers blossoming across the screen", to the horror of special-effects aficionados. Martial-arts purists were equally aghast at the tap-dancing scene at the end. For some it was atrocious, to the rest of us, an utter delight.

It is heartening to see Pedro Almodovar's Bad Education on the shortlist. The Spanish director achieved his greatest success with Talk to Her in 2003, for which he was nominated for an Oscar as director, and walked away with one as screenwriter. But in Bad Education, he returns to the sexually subversive, lurid subject matters of his youth. It tells the story of a Spanish education of the distant past, and the arrival of a former schoolfriend in a fictional director's life. Is he really the boy he fancied at school, under the beady eye of a paedophile priest? Few but Almodovar would have the audacity to make a camp, often light-hearted film about child abuse. Gael Garcia Bernal is on fine form as the interloper from the past.

Indeed, Bernal pops up again on the shortlist - as Che Guevara. Walter Salles's The Motorcycle Diaries was one of the art-house hits of 2004. Based on the youthful diaries of the later revolutionary icon, Bernal plays Guevara when he was a footloose potential medical studentsetting off on a clapped-out motorbike to travel around South America with a friend. In many ways, it is a tale as old as the hills - a student jaunt full of discomfort, romance, comedy, self-exploration. One thing, however, is different. The audience is constantly mindful that this youth will become the man on the Cuban banknote. The Motorcycle Diaries is quite unexpected in its freshness, and beautifully made.

The two final films are by lesser-known directors, one Russian and one Turkish. The Russian film is by Andrei Zvyagintsev and is called The Return. A Golden Lion winner in Venice 2003, it is a pared- down tale of a father returning home after a long absence. We follow the fate of his two reluctant and suspicious sons (Vladimir Garin and Ivan Dobronravov) as they accompany him on an increasingly bizarre fishing trip. It's a film charged with an eerie sense of foreboding. Sad to say, Garin died shortly after shooting, drowned in the same stretch of water used in the shoot.

Last but not least - and with a similarly tragic aftermath - is Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Distant. The story of a relative coming to stay with a photographer cousin in Istanbul, it is a tale of urban selfishness delineated with the barest economy. A Grand Prix winner in Cannes 2002, its stars, Muzaffer Ozdemir and Emin Toprak, also shared the best-actor prize. Sadly, Toprak was killed in a car accident shortly after. Ceylan finances his films himself, often using his own flat, car and even relatives in order to cut costs.

So, a rich mix of dissimilar films, and the choice will, of course, be a hard one. You can follow the process on; and there will be a preview programme on BBC4, tonight at 11.30pm.

Roger Clarke is currently writing 'The Rough Guide to World Cinema'


Hero (Zhang Yimou, China 2002)

Zatoichi (Takeshi Kitano, Japan 2003)

Bad Education (Pedro Almodovar, Spain 2004)

The Motorcycle Diaries

(Walter Salles, USA/Germany/UK/ Argentina 2004)

The Return (Andrei Zvyagintsev, Russia 2003)

Uzak/Distant (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey 2002)