Countries pick pix for foreign race

This article was updated at 4:29 p.m.

Canada’s submission for foreign Oscar will be helmer Deepa Mehta’s Hindi-language pic “Water,” making it the first country to take advantage of June’s rule change that allows a picture to feature any combination of languages so long as the dominant one is not English.

Language was a problem last year when Austria’s entry, Michael Haneke’s French-language “Cache,” was deemed ineligible, as was Italy’s “Private,” which featured Arabic and Hebrew but no Italian dialogue.

India-born Mehta is a Canadian resident. “Water,” which exposes the plight of widows in India, is a Fox Searchlight release.

Meanwhile, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Japan and South Korea have chosen their foreign-language Oscar hopefuls.

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s hard-hitting feature debut “The Lives of Others,” about East Germany’s dreaded Stasi secret service and its terrifying system of domestic spying, is the Teutonic entry.

“The Lives of Others” nabbed seven German Film Awards, including pic and director, this year.

Max Wiedemann and Quirin Berg of Munich-based Wiedemann & Berg Filmproduktion produced the hit, which was released locally by Buena Vista Intl. It will be released Stateside early next year by Sony Pictures Classics.

Germany’s candidate for the Oscar nomination is selected by an independent jury appointed by promotional film org German Films.

Meanwhile, Aki Kaurismaki’s “Lights in the Dusk” will represent Finland, while Susanne Bier’s “After the Wedding” is Denmark’s pick.

Directed, produced, written and edited by Kaurismaki, “Lights” is a dark drama about a lonely nightwatchman caught up in a series of misadventures.

Pic, which bowed in competition at Cannes, was produced by Kaurismaki’s company Sputnik. Janne Hyytiainen and Maria Jarvenhelmi star. The Match Factory handles international sales.

“Wedding,” about a manager of an Indian orphanage who discovers a family secret, stars Mads Mikkelsen and Sidse Babett Knudsen.

Sisse Graum Olsen produced for Zentropa Entertainments. Trust Film Sales has sold “Wedding” to all available territories.

The Motion Picture Producers Assn. of Japan (Eiren) has selected “Hula Girls.”

Directed by Lee Sang-il, an ethnic Korean born and raised in Japan, pic is based on the true story of a mining community that launched a Hawaiian Center in the mid-1960s to lure tourists and revive its flagging economy. Yasuko Matsuyuki and Yu Aoi star.

Distribbed by Cine Qua Non, pic world preemed this month at the Toronto Film Festival; it opens in Japan on Saturday.

Box office smash “King and the Clown” has been chosen as South Korea’s entry by a committee of critics, programmers, professors and filmmakers appointed by the state-funded Korean Film Council.

It beat out Bong Joon-ho’s record-breaking monster movie “The Host” and helmer Kim Ki-duk’s “Time.”

Directed by Lee Joon-ik and repped internationally by CJ Entertainment, period pic centers around a gay sex scandal in the court of a mad king.

“Clown” was released locally Dec. 29. CJ Entertainment plans to distribute the film directly in the U.S., likely in partnership with another distributor, in the first half of 2007.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will announce the five international nominees for foreign-language Oscar on Jan. 23. The 79th Oscar ceremony will take place Feb. 25.

(Brendan Kelly in Montreal, Ed Meza in Berlin, Pia Lundberg in Stockholm, Mark Schilling in Tokyo and Darcy Paquet in Seoul contributed to this report.)

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