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Oscar’s melting pot heats up

European submissions reveal national identity

This year’s foreign-language Oscar race could well be dubbed “Beyond Borders.”

The European submissions in particular reveal a decidedly more fluid interpretation of national identity than ever before.

France’s selection, for example, is “Persepolis,” an animated pic based on co-director Marjane Satrapi‘s autobiographical graphic novel about her experiences growing up in Iran during the 1979 revolution. “Persepolis” won the submission slot over the much-fancied biopic “La Vie En Rose,” about beloved national icon Edith Piaf.

Germany selected Teuton-Turkish helmer Fatih Akin‘s “Edge of Heaven” as its entry, although it’s set as much in Turkey as in Germany.

Both choices reveal a growing acceptance in Europe of the growing multicultural society.

“It shows that the French are recognizing that people can have a past and still be from the same place,” says Satrapi of France’s selection of her film. “You have the right to have another background and still be part of that society. Also, with Fatih’s film, it shows that Germans understand he’s a part of their country and is German.”

Other Euro entries in the Oscar race are also redefining national cinema.

Greece’s choice, “Eduart,” focuses on the travails of an illegal Albanian immigrant who gets sucked into a life of crime in Athens, while Italy’s “La Sconosciuta” (The Unknown Woman) follows a Ukrainian girl trying to escape an illegal prostitution ring. Even Irish contender “Kings,” about Irish immigrants living in London, is reportedly the first bilingual Irish film entered in the Oscar race.

“Borders are just there to cross,” says Akin. “It’s not nations that are so important anymore but more the unions and connections between them.”

Still, with so many of this year’s foreign-language submissions featuring a multinational tapestry of talent and influences, there are some questions about how well some films represent their country of origin. Israeli submission “The Band’s Visit” — about an Egyptian music band stranded in an Israeli village — is accused by some of having too much English language in it.

Naturally, such protests carry little weight with those whose films made the cut.

“If we have to limit the nationality of a film to just its subject matter then every country could only deal with national subject matters,” says Hengameh Panahi, head of Celluloid Dreams, the Paris-based sales outfit on Satrapi’s pic. “Persepolis is a 100% French production.”

“You don’t get this problem in America because it’s a country of immigrants,” says Satrapi. “In Europe it’s always a little bit harder and takes a little longer for people to accept the idea, but the fact that it’s happening now is a good thing.”

Regardless of which five films make it onto the final noms list, the prize for most culturally kaleidoscopic pic has to go to Kazakhstan’s entry, “Mongol.”

Pic, helmed by Sergei Bodrov, a Russian who lives in Kazakhstan, was co-financed by Russian and Kazakh coin and tells the story of Mongolian emperor Genghis Khan — who is played in the film by Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano.