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Oscar in the foreign fray

59 countries vie for a nomination

With the passing of Monday’s deadline, the race for the foreign-language film Oscar is shaping up with some 59 entries announced, including a first for New Zealand.

Four countries are definitely out — Azerbaijan, Costa Rica, Luxembourg and Ukraine — and one, the Dominican Republic, was disqualified on a technicality.

Word has yet to come from other countries that have previously taken part, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Estonia, Iraq and Latvia.

Some of the pics vying for a nomination may give the Academy pause for thought.

A question mark hangs over Slovenia’s “Silent Sonata,” helmed by Janez Burger, because it is, as the name suggests, silent. It is thought France opted not to submit “The Artist” for a similar reason, going instead for Valerie Donzelli’s “Declaration of War.”

No such concerns surround tyro helmer-scribe Tusi Tamasese’s Samoan-lingo “The Orator” (O le tulafale), New Zealand’s choice.

Backed by the New Zealand Film Commission and the Samoan government, the Blueskin Films pic bowed last month at the Venice Film Festival, where it received a special mention. Pic is about a Samoan little person’s fight for his land and his pride.

NZFC topper Graeme Mason called it “an extraordinary portrait of a place and a way of life, and I think that’s something which resonates with the foreign-language voters.”

The Dominican Republic’s film commissioner Ellis Perez said helmer Leticia Tonos’ family drama “La hija natural” (Love Child) was pulled because the names of those on the selection committee weren’t sent to the Academy by the Aug. 1 deadline.

The snafu is even more frustrating for Tonos, the country’s first female helmer.

Among controversial choices, Pedro Almodovar was cold-shouldered by Spain’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences once more, with Agusti Villaronga’s rural coming-of-age tale “Black Bread” selected over Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In.”

“Bread,” set in 1944, took nine kudos at February’s Goya Awards, including film, director and actress for Nora Navas. “Skin” was not released in time to be eligible for the Goyas.

Only one of Almodovar’s last five features, “Volver,” has been selected for foreign-language consideration. “Talk to Her,” though not put forward by the Spanish Academy, won an Academy Award for original screenplay.

In Albania, the choice of American director Joshua Marston’s “Forgiveness of Blood” sparked a formal protest from director Bujar Alimani, whose “Amnesty” failed to make the cut. He urged Albania’s Oscar selection committee to disqualify the film on the grounds that it is a majority U.S. production.

Pics announced this past week include Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” from Turkey; Sarunyu Wongkrachang’s “Kon Khon,” Thailand; Fernando Spiner’s “Aballay, el hombre sin miedo,” Argentina; Khaled El Hagar’s “Lust,” Egypt; and Vladimir Blazevski’s “Punk’s Not Dead,” Macedonia.

(Anna Marie de la Fuente, Paul Chai and Will Tizard contributed to this report.)

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