Canada is officially resting its Oscar hopes on Maxime Giroux's film Félix et Meira.
Film agency Telefilm Canada unveiled the drama as the country's official submission to the Academy Awards for consideration in the best foreign-language film category for 2016.
The movie centres on a relationship that develops between a young married Orthodox Jewish woman and a young man in her neighbourhood who is mourning his father's death.
"It's a film in French, English and Yiddish. It's really a Montreal film, so I'm really happy I'm here to represent Canada and Montreal," Giroux said at a press conference in Montreal on Friday afternoon.
"It was a film made with a small budget and kind of a challenge in every term," he added.
Félix et Meira had its premiere at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the prize for best Canadian Feature. The film has screened at more than 30 festivals worldwide and, among other honours, received the Tobias Szpancer Award for Best Film at the Haifa International Film Festival. Movie critics and audiences have praised the film's sensitive depiction of the Hasidic community.
Giroux praised the courage of the actors in the film, who were former Hasidic Jews and have since left the community.
"It's their story in a way and I know at some point, it was difficult for them to shoot some of the scenes because it was really close to what they lived in their lives. It's tough for them to reinvent themselves and have a new life in our society," he told CBC News.
Giroux said that in making the film, his third feature, "I learned a lot about my city, the community I live in and [myself] also. And I think that's why I go to the cinema and I think that's why I live — to learn more about other people."
In the past six years, Canada has had four films make it as best foreign-language film finalists:
- Incendies, directed by Denis Villeneuve.
- In Darkness, directed by Agnieszka Holland (a co-production).
- Monsieur Lazhar, directed by Philippe Falardeau.
- Rebelle, directed by Kim Nguyen.
Last year's submission – Xavier Dolan's Mommy – failed to make it to the final list of nominees. Previous Canadian Oscar finalists included Deepa Mehta's Water and Denys Arcand's films The Decline of the American Empire, Jesus of Montreal and The Barbarian Invasions – which ultimately won in 2004.
"When you look at all the films that [have] represented Canada… it's incredible. Those directors are, how do I say, inspired …To be next to them is an honour," Giroux added.
The foreign-language film race is already heating up, with most countries confirming their selections over the past week as the U.S. film academy's Oct. 1 deadline approaches.
Other notable submissions that have earned international kudos already include France's pick Mustang, Hungary's choice Son of Saul, China's Wolf Totem and The Assassin, Taiwan's contender.
The 88th Academy Awards will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Feb. 28.