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Director Hany Abu-Assad on Thursday earned his and Palestine’s second Oscar nomination in the best foreign language film category for his drama Omar, which is set in the West Bank.
“I was sleeping when I heard the news,” Abu-Assad told The Hollywood Reporter about the nomination morning. “My friend woke me up screaming, and I didn’t know why, and suddenly she said, ‘You are nominated!’ It’s a really good surprise. I didn’t want to watch, because I couldn’t stand the tension. It’s too much. I can’t watch it.”
The film centers on a Palestinian man caught up in the violence surrounding him and imprisoned by the Israelis, who want him to betray his childhood friends. The Nazareth-born Abu-Assad emigrated to the Netherlands in 1980 and identifies himself as a Palestinian, which has led to some debate in Israel.
In 2006, Palestine got its first-ever foreign-language Oscar nomination for his 2005 release, Paradise Now, which ended up winning the Golden Globe for best foreign-language movie. The film, based on a screenplay that the director co-wrote with Dutch producer Bero Beyer, chronicles 48 hours before two friends are sent on a suicide mission to Israel.
South Africa won its first and only foreign-language Oscar that year with Gavin Hood’s Tsotsi, a drama about a young street thug.
The areas claimed by the State of Palestine have been occupied by Israel since 1967, with the Palestinian Authority exercising its sociopolitical administration since 1993 in limited areas.
Omar, touted as the first film to be fully funded by the Palestinian film industry, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard sidebar and won its jury prize.
A record 76 countries, including first-timers like Moldova and Saudi Arabia, submitted films in the foreign-language category. The list was then cut down to nine and on Thursday to five.
Besides Omar, they are: Belgium’s The Broken Circle Breakdown from Felix Van Groeningen, about a couple whose daughter is dying of cancer; Italy’s The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino‘s nod to the Federico Fellini classic La Dolce Vita that follows an aging society journalist through the excesses of Rome; Danish drama The Hunt from Thomas Vinterberg about a kindergarten teacher (Mads Mikkelsen) accused of child molestation; and Cambodia’s The Missing Picture from Rithy Panh, the winner of Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section that recounts the atrocities committed by the country’s Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.
Tim Appelo contributed to this article.
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