Politics, religion bar way to region's films

ABU DHABI — Politics and religion are hampering Oscar prospects for helmers not just in Iran but across the Middle East.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon entries were also noticeably absent from Monday’s record list of 71 films submitted for the Academy’s foreign-language film category, although all three countries had possible contenders.

Iran, true to its earlier announcement, pulled Reza Mirkarimi’s dramedy “A Cube of Sugar” in protest against the U.S.-made anti-Islam video that caused mayhem in the region.

However, other nations’ motives for opting out of the Oscar race are much less clear cut and hinge on more intricate factors.

Egypt, for example, had a strong contender in Yousry Nasrallah’s “After the Battle,” which deals with the complex aftermath of the Egyptian revolution in multifaceted ways that have ruffled feathers on the home front.

“After the Battle” was fiercely attacked as anti-revolutionary by helmer Ahmed Atef, who is also a film critic for Cairo weekly Al-Ahram. Atef was recently appointed executive director of the Cairo Film Festival by Egypt’s new culture minister following elections won by the Muslim Brotherhood in June.

“Hardly a cultural and political climate that would allow ‘After the Battle’ to become Egypt’s official entry at the Oscars,” noted a prominent Egyptian industryite.

Saudi Arabia could have submitted Haifaa Al Mansour’s “Wadjda,” about a young girl whose desire to ride a bicycle pushes the boundaries of a woman’s place in Saudi society. Pic, touted as the country’s first feature and the first Saudi film helmed by a woman, world preemed to positive response at Venice and has been purchased by Sony Pictures Classics for a 2013 U.S. release.

But with “Wadjda,” the Academy would have had to drop its requirement that pics in the foreign-language category be released in their country of origin, since movie theaters are banned in Saudi Arabia to appease conservative clerics.

As for Lebanon, “The Attack,” a drama by U.S.-based Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri, who has worked as an assistant a.d. on several Quentin Tarantino pics, also seemed a possible foreign-language Oscar candidate after a positive bow in Toronto.

But again, the subject matter of this Lebanon-France-Qatar-Egypt-Belgium co-production is highly sensitive: Pic is about a surgeon who is Palestinian citizen of Israel and discovers that his wife is a suicide bomber.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will announce the five nominees for best foreign-language film on Jan. 10. The 85th Academy Awards ceremony takes place Feb. 24.

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