Danish 'Italian,' Czech 'Blue' vie for Oscar

Lone Scherfig’s “Italian for Beginners” and Jan Sverak’s “Dark Blue World” have been chosen to represent Denmark and the Czech Republic, respectively, as contenders for this year’s Oscar for best foreign-language film.

“Italian for Beginners,” a relationship comedy centered around working-class thirtysomethings in Copenhagen, is the first Dogma film directed by a woman. It received a Silver Bear at this year’s Berlin Intl. Film Festival and most recently bagged the Grand Prix in Warsaw.

The Zentropa Entertainment pic has exceeded 850,000 admissions in Denmark. Miramax will release the film in the U.S. on Jan. 18.

The choice of “Dark Blue World,” the story of Czech pilots serving in the RAF during WWII, should be no surprise, said Petr Vachler, director of the Czech Film and Television Academy. Sverak won the Oscar for best foreign-language film in 1996 with “Kolya” and received an Oscar nom for his first film, “Elementary School.”

“Dark Blue World” was scripted by the helmer’s father and frequent collaborator Zdenek Sverak. It was shot in Czech and English and produced by “Kolya” producer Eric Abraham.

Vachler said this was a particularly strong year for Czech films, with 14 films considered for Oscar submission. Sixteen films are eligible for the 2001 Czech Lion awards, the Czech equivalent of the Oscars. “Dark Blue World,” which screened at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, beat out films by Jan Svankmajer, Vladimir Michalek and F.A. Brabec.

The Czechs are hoping to build on their growing Oscar profile. Last year’s candidate, “Divided We Fall,” directed by Jan Hrebejk, received an Oscar nomination and was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics.

Denmark has won twice in the foreign-language pic category, for Gabriel Axel’s “Babette’s Feast” in 1987 and Bille August’s “Pelle the Conqueror” in 1989.

Oscar nominations will be announced Feb. 12. Awards will be presented March 24.

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