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With the Oscar contenders unveiled on Thursday morning, Jordan and Colombia earned their first-ever nominations in the best foreign-language film race.
Theeb is a historic drama that premiered in Venice in 2014. Set in 1916, it tells the story of a Bedouin boy struggling for survival in the midst of World War I as Ottoman forces fight to keep a grip on their crumbling empire. The movie has drawn comparisons to Lawrence of Arabia and earned praise for its young cast and director, who won the best director prize in Venice.
Theeb is Jordan’s second submission in the foreign-language film race. Previously, the country submitted Amin Matalqa’s Captain Abu Raed (2008), but the pic didn’t get nominated.
The black-and-white Serpent spans 40 years in the relationship between an Amazonian shaman and two European scientists as they search the jungle for a sacred healing plant in the early 20th century. The film topped the Directors’ Fortnight at last year’s edition of the Cannes Film Festival, marking the director’s return to the Riviera after his 2009 entry The Wind Journeys. Colombia has submitted 24 films in the foreign-language film category, but had previously never been nominated.
Rounding out the foreign-language Oscar race are: Hungary’s Son of Saul from Laszlo Nemes, a film about a Jewish Auschwitz concentration-camp prisoner desperately trying to give a boy a decent burial, which won Hungary its first-ever Golden Globe; Turkish-language French entry Mustang from Deniz Gamze Erguven, the story of five sisters who are increasingly isolated by their family as they near womanhood; and Denmark’s A War, directed by Tobias Lindholm, which is about a company commander stationed in an Afghan province while his wife is trying to hold everyday life together back home.
Hungarian films had been nominated for the foreign-language Oscar eight times before Thursday, but Son of Saul marks the first nomination since the fall of Communism in 1989. Istvan Szabo’s Mephisto (1981) won the country’s sole foreign-language honor, and his Hanussen (1988) was the last Hungarian nominee in the category.
France is one of the most successful countries in the foreign-language film category, but it hadn’t been nominated in six years, marking its longest period ever without an Oscar contender. Before Thursday’s nominations, it had received 36 mentions. The country has won the category nine times, most recently for Regis Wargnier’s Indochine (1992).
Denmark had been nominated 12 times in the category, with Thursday’s nomination taking its tally to 13. It has won three times, most recently for Susanne Bier’s In a Better World (2010).
The other foreign-language submissions that failed to make the cut of final nominees were Germany’s Labyrinth of Lies, a period drama from newbie director Giulio Ricciarelli about a mostly forgotten piece of German history; Belgium’s religious comedy The Brand New Testament, directed by Jaco Van Dormael and starring Catherine Deneuve; Finland’s The Fencer, directed by Klaus Haro, which is set in Soviet-occupied Estonia and focuses on a man on the run from the secret police; and Viva, Ireland’s fourth submission in the foreign-language category, which centers on an 18-year-old Cuban working in a drag bar in Havana whose life is shaken by the return of his long-lost father.
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