Oscars: Estonia, Mauritania Get First Foreign-Language Nominations

'Timbuktu,' Abderrahmane Sissako (Competition)

The sole representative of African cinema in competition this year, the fifth solo directing effort from the Mauritania-born, Mali-raised Sissako was inspired by the real-life story of the 2012 stoning in Northern Mali of a young unmarried couple by Islamists in front of hundreds of onlookers. Sissako is one of the filmmakers from sub-Saharan Africa to enjoy international recognition, and he's been a Cannes regular. Both Bamako (2007) and Waiting for Happiness (2002) screened on the Croisette, the latter winning the Fipresci critics honor for titles screening in the Un Certain Regard sidebar. (Sales: Le Pacte)

Poland earns its latest nomination with 'Ida,' but it has never won before.

Overall, 83 movies were considered for this year's Academy Awards foreign-language film race, and when the final five nominees were announced on Thursday morning, two countries earned their first-ever nominations in the category.

They are the Baltic state of Estonia, which will be represented by Zaza Urushadze's Tangerines, and Africa's Mauritania, which is represented by Abderrahmane Sissako's 2014 Cannes competition entry Timbuktu.

Read more Cannes: African Filmmakers Enjoy Rare Spotlight

Venezuela missed out on its first-ever nomination after making the shortlist of the final nine foreign-language candidates with its submission The Liberator by Alberto Arvelo.

Timbuktu is a drama about the occupation of the Malian city by Islamic rebels and how it tears a family apart. While the film is set in Mali, it was shot in Mauritania. It is the country's first-ever foreign-language Oscar submission.

Tangerines, a co-production with Georgia, is about two Estonian men who live in a village in a conflict region, but refuse to flee until they harvest their fruit. It is Estonia's 12th submission in the foreign-language category, but its first-ever nominee.

The two first-time foreign-language nominees will compete with three festival favorites of the past year.

Read more 'Ida' Director Pawel Pawlikowski on Unexpected Oscar Buzz and Letting the Audience Be in Control (Q&A)

They are Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida from Poland, a drama about a nun-in-training who discovers secrets about her family's past; Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev's dark comedy Leviathan, which revolves around a land dispute in a small town; and Damian Szifron's Wild Tales, Argentina's nominee about people who are pushed to their limits.

Argentina was nominated for the foreign-language Oscar six times before Thursday and won twice — in 1985 for Luis Puenzo’s The Official Story and in 2009 for Juan Jose Campanella’s The Secret in Their Eyes.

Poland has been nominated nine times before, but has never won. Its first nomination was in 1963 for Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water, while its most recent one was in 2011, for Agnieszka Holland’s In Darkness.

Read more Oscars: The Real Stories Behind 6 Foreign-Language Contenders

Russia's been nominated five times before Thursday since the end of the Soviet Union and won once, in 1994 for Nikita Mikhalkov’s Burnt by the Sun.

Email: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai