January 22, 2009 / 9:12 PM / 9 years ago

War, immigration, politics mark foreign Oscar picks

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Three films with strong political themes were among the Oscar nominees in the foreign language category on Thursday, with the anti-war “Waltz with Bashir” in the running to win Israel’s first Oscar.

A scene from the German film "The Baader Meinhof Complex'' is seen in this undated publicity photo released to Reuters January 22, 2009. The film has been nominated for best foreign language film in the 81st Academy Awards, announced in Beverly Hills Thursday. The Oscars will be awarded February 22, 2009 in Hollywood. REUTERS/Constantin Film Productions/Handout

The other films nominated for a foreign language Oscar were France’s “The Class,” Germany’s “The Baader Meinhof Complex,” Japan’s “Departures” and Austria’s “Revanche.”

“It’s a pretty good list, I’m particularly fond of the Israeli picture,” said film critic Emanuel Levy, author of the book “All About the Oscars.”

“Waltz with Bashir,” which mixes documentary filmmaking and animation, deals with Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon by revisiting director Ari Folman’s memories of fighting in the conflict.

“Waltz with Bashir” is widely considered the Oscar front-runner after winning a Golden Globe earlier this month and being named the best movie of 2008 by the National Society of Film Critics in the United States.

“My film has a very strong anti-war declaration,” said Folman, whose film brings Israel’s Oscar nomination tally to eight.

“Israel has never won the Oscars, never,” he told Reuters. “I’m overwhelmed, but I was not surprised. I was hoping that nothing would go wrong,” he said of Thursday’s nomination.

Director Uli Edel, 61, said he made “The Baader Meinhof Complex,” about the 1970s German left-wing radical group, to teach his 20-something sons about the violent politics that engulfed his country’s student movement when he was their age.

“It’s still not a so widely known story here in the United States,” said Edel, who now lives in Los Angeles.

Edel said he hoped the Oscar nomination would help the film gain exposure in the United States. He told Reuters he was so excited about Thursday’s nominations that he stayed up all night but fell asleep minutes before the early morning announcement and was awakened with the news by a phone call.

“The Class,” which topped the competition at Cannes to win the Palme d’Or for best picture, portrays a Parisian middle school teacher’s struggles to educate a class of mostly immigrant children.

Immigration is a hotly debated political issue in France, where conservative groups have criticized large-scale immigration from African and Muslim countries.

“For me, the only message I want to convey is that diversity, far from being a problem, is really a blessing for everybody,” director Laurent Cantet said of “The Class.”

The Japanese film “Departures” from director Yojiro Takita won the top prize at the Montreal World Film Festival. It centers on an unemployed man who takes a job preparing corpses for cremation and finds an aptitude for the intricate ritual.

“Revanche,” from director Gotz Spielmann, is about an ex-convict who plans to help his girlfriend escape a brothel by robbing a bank but finds himself enmeshed with a policeman and his wife.

The movie follows last year’s foreign-language Oscar win for Austria’s Holocaust-era drama “The Counterfeiters.”

The Italian film “Gomorrah,” about the Naples Mafia, was notably absent when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its foreign short list last week.

“It could be that they simply didn’t like the film, or maybe they objected to the degree of violence in the picture,” Levy said. “You can only second guess.”

A scene from the Israeli film "Waltz with Bashir" is seen in this undated publicity photo released to Reuters January 22, 2009. REUTERS/Sony Pictures Classics/Handout

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Jill Serjeant and John O'Callaghan

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