Germany puts 'Lives' into Oscar race


COLOGNE, Germany -- Germany has picked "The Lives of Others" from first-time filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck as the country's official entry for the 2007 foreign-language film Academy Award.

In a separate development, Japan has submitted Lee Sang-il's "Hula Girls" as its official entry in the same category.

"Lives" was the big winner at this year's German Film Awards, picking up seven Lolas, including best film and best acting nods for stars Ulrich Muhe and Ulrich Tukur.

It tells the story of a by-the-book Stasi agent (Muhe) assigned to spy on one of East Germany's most popular playwrights (Sebastian Koch). While listening to the lives of the free-spirited artist and his dissident friends, the agent begins to question the totalitarian system he has devoted his life to.

"This film vividly shows not just a chapter in this history of divided Germany but the story of a man who, though observing the lives of others, regains his own life," the independent jury that picked "Lives" said Monday.

"Lives" was released by Buena Vista International in March in Germany, where it has earned ?10.3 million ($13 million). The film screened at the Toronto and Telluride film festivals; Sony Pictures Classics has domestic distribution rights.

Nominations for the 2007 Academy Awards will be announced Jan. 23. The 79th Annual Academy Awards will be presented Feb. 25 in Hollywood.