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Israeli entry out, Palestine entry still in Oscar race

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LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Israel is out and Palestine is still in the Oscar race for best foreign language film.

Israel’s entry “Bethlehem,” winner as best film at the 2013 Venice Film Festival, did not make the cut when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its nine semifinalists on Friday. The Palestinian film “Omar”  was one of the semifinalists.

Both films reflect the intensity of the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In “Omar,” the title character and the beautiful Nadja pine for each other on opposite sides of the security fence. In the process of jumping the wall and participating in the shooting of an Israeli soldier, Omar, played by Adam Bakri, is caught by Israeli undercover agents, who torture him and try to turn him into a collaborator. Distrusted by the Israelis and reviled as a traitor by his own people, Omar is driven to one last desperate act.

Director Hany Abu-Assad won critical praise for two previous films, “Paradise Now” and “Rana’s Wedding.”

In “Bethlehem,” director Yuval Adler and his co-writer, Palestinian journalist Ali Waked, draw no moral judgments in the struggle between the Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security agency, against Hamas and the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade.

The shortlist of five finalists in the foreign-language and other categories will be announced on Jan. 16. The Oscars will be given out on March 2 in Hollywood.

A record 76 countries entered films. Perhaps the most surprising omission on the list of semifinalists was “The Past” by Iranian director Ashgar Farhadi, who won the Academy Award two years ago with “A Separation.” Similarly slighted was the heavily promoted “Wadja,” the first-ever submission by Saudi Arabia.

Israeli filmmakers’ record of 10 nominations place Israel among the 10 most nominated countries, though the Israeli film industry has yet to bring home its first Academy Award.

 

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