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Foreign-language Oscar race heats up

Countries submit entries for Academy consideration

With the Oct. 1 deadline fast approaching, a slew of countries have unveiled their films vying for nominations in Oscar’s foreign-language category.

Two of the recently announced selections, Canada’s “I Killed My Mother” and Belgium’s “The Misfortunates,” world preemed in the Directors’ Fortnight at May’s Cannes Film Festival.

“I Killed My Mother,” the first film by 23-year-old Montreal-based writer-director Xavier Dolan, won three prizes in the Cannes sidebar. The autobiographical French-language drama stars Dolan as a gay 16-year-old who has a stormy relationship with his mother. Here Films will release the pic Stateside early next year.The other Fortnight selection is Felix Van Groeningen’s “The Misfortunates,” about a boy growing up in the 1980s in a household of drunks, gamblers and womanizers. Produced by Ghent-based shingle Menuet, the film just had its North American bow in Toronto. International sales are handled by MK2.

Serbia’s choice, helmer Darko Lungulov’s “Here and There,” was a hit at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival, where his tale of romance and desperation set in the very different worlds of Serbia and America took awards for new narrative filmmaker and New York film.

Backgammon as a metaphor for life takes a central role in Bulgarian director Stephan Komandarev’s “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner.” Film won best Bulgarian feature last year at the Sofia Film Festival.

Armenia’s choice is “A Magician’s Nephew,” a documentary about screenwriter Tonino Guerra, a friend of Federico Fellini, directed by Ruben and Vahe Gevorkyants.

Other nominations for Eastern Europe have yet to gain wider recognition, including Lithuania’s “Waterhole,” Gytis Luksas’ pic about the Soviet period in Lithuania as seen through the eyes of a boy in a small village; and Slovenia’s “Landscape No. 2,” Vinko Moderndorfer’s film about two art thieves who steal a mysterious document that unleashes diabolical powers from the past.

Poland’s candidate is documentary filmmaker Borys Lankosz’s feature debut, “The Reverse,” a darkly humorous suspense story told against the backdrop of communist Poland in the 1950s.

“The Reverse” was produced by Kadr studio — a film cooperative in which such filmmakers as Andrzej Wajda and Jerzy Kawalerowicz made their most important films of 1950s and 1960s — and marks the studio’s return to film production after 15 years.

Dark thriller “Terribly Happy,” helmed by Henrik Ruben Genz and produced by Thomas Gammeltoft for Fine and Mellow Prods., has been tapped as Denmark’s hope.

“Terribly Happy” concerns a Copenhagen cop who’s transferred to a rural town but soon discovers that things are not as quiet as they seem.

Pic, which won the Grand Prix at this year’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic , has been picked up by Oscilloscope for U.S. distribution.

Mario Barroso’s “Doomed Love,” a contempo adaptation of the 19th century novel by Camilo Castelo Branco, is Portugal’s pic. The Mexican Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose Carlos Carrera’s “Backyard” (El traspatio). Pic focuses on the probe into the murder of women in the city of Juarez on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Carrera helmed 2002 Gael Garcia Bernal starrer “The Crime of Father Amaro,” Mexico’s all-time top grosser domestically. “Backyard” is distributed in Mexico through Paramount and recently screened at Toronto.

Sergio Rezende’s “Salve geral” is Brazil’s nominee. Pic is set during a wave of gang violence that shook Sao Paulo, South America’s largest city, in 2006. “Salve geral” is the phrase used by the criminal organizations’ leaders to order the attacks.

The $4.5 million drama is produced by Toscana Audiovisual. Distributor Sony/Downtown will open it in Brazil on Oct. 2, the day after the start of the trial of Marco Herbas Camacho, who allegedly ordered the attacks.

The Film Federation of India selected Marathi-lingo “Harishchandrachi Factory,” directed by Paresh Mokashi, about the making of India’s first pic in 1913. It’s only the second Marathi film that the country has sent to the Oscars, after “Shwaas” in 2004.

Sri Lanka will enter “Flowers of the Sky,” helmed by Prasanna Vithanage, while Thailand’s National Film Assn. will submit the love story “Best in Time,” directed by Youngyooth Thongkonthun.

om will be announced Feb. 2, and the Academy Awards take place on March 7.

Nick Holdsworth in Moscow, Ian Mundell in Brussells, Michal Chacinsk in Warsaw, Gunnar Rehlin in Stockholm, Martin Dale in Lisbon, James Young in Mexico City, Marcelo Cajueiro in Rio de Janeiro, Shalini Dore in Los Angeles and Clifford Coonan in Beijing contributed to this report.

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