Three of the films in the running for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film this year have ties to Israel.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Tuesday announced the full list of nations that had submitted a movie for consideration in the category. Seventy-six applicants, including 73 countries, plus Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Palestinian Territories, are angling for the honor. A shortlist of five official nominees will be announced in January.
Israel, which has secured 10 nominations for Best Foreign Language film in its history but has never had a win, is trying its luck again this year with Yuval Adler’s “Bethlehem,” which explores a difficult relationship between a Shin Bet agent and a Palestinian teenager. The gritty political drama has done well at film festivals around the world, and nabbed trophies for Best Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Director and Best Screenplay at Israel’s own version of the Oscars, the Ophir Awards.
Hany Abu-Assad, a Nazareth-born director who holds an Israeli passport but identifies himself as a Palestinian, has also earned honors for his sweeping love story “Omar,” which is competing as the Palestinian entry for nomination. The Palestinian Ministry of Culture has submitted films for consideration in the category under the Palestinian flag since 2003, with Abu-Assad’s first film, “Paradise Now,” making it onto the shortlist of official nominees in 2005. Like Israel, no film from “Palestine” has ever won the coveted gold statue.
And from the Philippines this year comes “Transit,” a story from director Hannah Espia about foreign workers in Israel. The action is set in the Holy Land and follows the teenage daughter of an illegal foreign worker forced to hide out from the government after a deportation order is handed down.
One of the most hotly tipped films in this year’s crop of applicants is the critically-acclaimed “Wadjda,” Saudi Arabia’s first-ever submission for Oscar, from female Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour. The film follows a plucky 11-year-old girl in Riyadh who dreams of owning a bicycle. Al-Mansour, who lives in Bahrain, insisted on filming in her home country despite its archaic laws against women, and directed many of the outdoor scenes via cellphone while sequestered inside a trailer.
Last year’s Israeli submission, Rama Burstein’s “Fill the Void,” failed to earn a nomination. The prize eventually went to Michael Haneke’s French-language “Amour,” submitted by Austria.
The 86th Academy Awards will be held on March 2, 2014.