Each year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences invites countries to submit a single film for consideration in the competition category of Foreign Language Film. This year 81 films have been accepted for competition and, for the 13th consecutive year, the Smith Rafael Film Center offers a choice sampling.

This is a rare opportunity to view some of the most distinguished works in international cinema, many of which are film festival prizewinners.

Series programmed by Karen Davis and Janis Plotkin

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(Nie Yinniang)

Friday, January 1  •  5:00

Named Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival, Hou Hsiao-Hsien fashions an intimate 9th century wuxia (martial arts) drama about a master swordswoman trained as an assassin (the ravishingly beautiful Shu Qi) and assigned to kill a politician with whom she has a history. Hou’s deeply humane epic is filled with stunning imagery. In Mandarin with English subtitles. 105 min.

MVFF38 Official Selection

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(600 Millas)

Friday, January 1   •   7:30

A young gun trafficker is being secretly followed by a US agent (Tim Roth). While these two apparent enemies slowly connect crossing the border between Arizona and Mexico, they reach a dangerous epiphany where the only way out is to trust each other. Gabriel Ripstein won Best New Director at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival. In English and in Spanish with English subtitles.  84 min.

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Saturday, January 2  •  2:00
Wednesday, January 6  •  6:00

In filmmaker Klaus Härö’s drama, a haunted young man arrives in an Estonian town that has been under harsh Russian Communist rule since the end of World War II. Taking a job as sports instructor at the local school, he organizes a wildly successful fencing club. At the climactic competition with Russian foes, his past catches up with him. In Estonian and Russian with English subtitles. 98 min.

* Following the screening on Saturday, January 2, 2:00, there will be a presentation by San Rafael’s Marin Fencing Academy, including a short film and a live demonstration by its top students.

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Saturday, January 2  •  5:00

A young geologist and his family are caught in the middle of an avalanche that threatens to destroy their idyllic village on the shores of the fjord. Director Roar Uthaug’s incredibly powerful nature-thriller will leave you breathless with suspense and filled with respect for the awe-inspiring power of the natural world. In Norwegian with English subtitles. 105 min.

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Saturday, January 2  •  7:15

In filmmaker Maxime Giroux’s unconventional romance, Meira, a young Hasidic housewife and mother, and Félix, a secular Jew mourning his father’s recent passing, unexpectedly meet at a local bakery in Montreal. As Felix opens Meira’s eyes to the world outside of her tight-knit Orthodox community, her desire for change becomes harder for her to ignore. In Yiddish and French with English subtitles. 105 min.

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Sunday, January 3  •  1:00

Tracing the emigrations of his family over more than half a century, this 3D documentary epic from acclaimed expatriate Iraqi filmmaker Samir pays moving homage to the frustrated democratic dreams of a people successively plagued by the horrors of colonialism, dictatorship, war, and foreign occupation. This riveting tale creates a genuine people’s history of Iraq, at once humble and majestic. In English and in Arabic with English subtitles. 163 min.

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Sunday, January 3  •  4:15

Chaitanya Tamhane’s prize-winning Court is a quietly devastating, absurdist portrait of injustice and caste prejudice in contemporary India. An elderly folk singer and grassroots organizer, dubbed the “people’s poet,” is arrested on a trumped-up charge. Professional and nonprofessional actors provide a mixture of comedy and tragedy that is rich with complexity and contradiction. In Marathi, Hindi and Gujarati with English subtitles. 116 min.

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Sunday, January 3  •  7:00

Set in 18th century Korea, this sweeping historical epic traces an emotional and psychological arc of truly Shakespearean proportions, centering on King Yeongjo’s struggles with his belligerent and free-spirited son Sado. As the king grows increasingly disappointed in his son, Sado’s pride drives him on the road to vengeance. In Korean with English subtitles. 125 min.

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Monday, January 4  •  6:00

In director Tobias Lindholm’s sensitively rendered war drama, a young Danish military commander patrols a war-torn Afghan province, while back in Denmark his wife struggles to hold everyday life together for the children. Using only three professional actors, with all supporting roles played by war veterans, this film is a remarkably evenhanded and nonjudgmental look at the cost of conflict to all sides. In Danish with English subtitles. 115 min.

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(Que Horas Ela Volta?)

Monday, January 4  •  8:30

This Sundance and Berlin winner centers around Val, a hard-working, live-in housekeeper who is perfectly content to take care of her wealthy employers’ needs, from cooking and cleaning to being a surrogate mother to their teenage son. But when Val’s estranged daughter Jessica suddenly shows up, the unspoken but intrinsic class barriers that exist within the home are thrown into disarray. In Portuguese with English subtitles. 112 min.

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Tuesday, January 5  •  6:00

With an indigenous cast and the power of a classic fable, Ixcanul tells the moving story of a Mayan family living in the shadow of a volcano in the Guatemalan highlands. Young Maria has her eyes on a handsome worker, but her parents have promised her to the foreman at the coffee plantation, in filmmaker Jayro Bustamente’s beautifully filmed world where nature and rituals are part of daily life. In Kaqchikel and Spanish with English subtitles. 91 min.

MVFF38 Official Selection

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(El abrazo de la serpiente)

Tuesday, January 5  •  8:00

Winner of the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, this visually startling black-and-white tale of the Amazon intercuts two journeys of a lone shaman 40 years apart. The last of the Cohiuano people, he lives in harmony with the rainforest, despite the incursion of missionaries and rubber barons, and he guides two scientists looking for a sacred healing plant. In Spanish, Portuguese and Amazonian languages with English subtitles. 125 min.

MVFF38 Official Selection

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Wednesday, January 6  •  8:15

Writer/director Joost von Ginkel’s powerful and timely mosaic centers on the interwoven stories of six immigrants from different social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, living in Amsterdam today. While the characters seem to share little more than the city where they now reside, their destinies are inextricably interconnected by a series of life-changing events. In Dutch, French, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Serbian and Swedish with English subtitles. 123 min.

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Thursday, January 7  •  6:00

In Person: Director Grimur Hakonarson

Winner of Cannes’ Un Certain Regard competition, this touching and wry Icelandic comedy wittily portrays the connection between man and beast. For brothers Gummi and Kiddi, who haven’t spoken to one another in 40 years, their lambs are their life. But after a mysterious outbreak of scrapie leads to a decree that all local sheep must be slaughtered, the siblings are forced to work together in surprising ways. In Icelandic with English subtitles. 93 min.

MVFF38 Official Selection

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(Le tout nouveau testament)

Thursday, January 7  •  8:30

Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael (Toto the Hero) delivers an outrageously funny, surreal and sacrilegious social satire posing the question: What if God is not dead, but merely an ornery, overworked average Joe living in Brussels with a rebellious pre-teen daughter? (You thought He only had a son?) The all-star cast features Benoît Poelvoorde, Catherine Deneuve, Yolande Moreau and a gorilla! In French with English subtitles. 110 min.

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