`The Motorcycle Diaries' an Oscar orphan

It doesn't qualify as a foreign movie

Film

October 17, 2004|By Patrick Goldstein | Patrick Goldstein,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Near the end of The Motorcycle Diaries, Ernesto "Che" Guevara makes a toast to the staff of a leper colony in which he says that his journey across Latin America "has only confirmed [my] belief that the division of America into unstable and illusory nations is a complete fiction. We are one single mestizo race from Mexico to the Magellan Straits."

Focus Films co-president James Schamus, who is distributing the film, knows the speech all too well. He jokes, "It's the speech that knocks the movie out of the best foreign film race."

According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences rules, a foreign country is allowed to nominate one movie that would be eligible for the Oscar for best foreign film. But Motorcycle Diaries is an orphan this year, according to Schamus, "because in our case, there are so many creative contributors from so many different countries that no one country sees this film as its own."

The movie's director, Walter Salles, is Brazilian. The screenwriter, Jose Rivera, is from Puerto Rico. The film's star, Gael Garcia Bernal, is Mexican. His costar, Rodrigo de la Serna, is from Argentina. The film's cinematographer, Eric Gautier, is from France. The film, which is in Spanish, was shot in Peru, Chile and Argentina.

Schamus doesn't expect the academy to change its rules, but he wouldn't complain if in the future the organization found a way to make room for at-large candidates without a specific country of origin.

The academy's Foreign Language Film Executive Committee has dealt with complicated questions about movies' origins in the past, frequently bending the rule that films must be in the language of their country of origin. But it has yet to find a way to make room for films that haven't won the support of a specific country.

"With a quality film, like Motorcycle Diaries, if any one country, be it Brazil or Argentina, had submitted it, we would've found a way to accept it," says Mark Johnson, who chairs the Foreign Language Film Executive Committee.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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