Sunday March 5, Hollywood honors the best on screen in 2005 as chosen by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Nominees for the top international Oscar include a pair of historical dramas inspired by real events from World Wars I and II, a contemporary woman's journey to the emotional scars of her past, the journey of two young Palestinian friends as they prepare to become suicide bombers and a South African street thug's discovery of his own humanity thanks to a tiny baby. Alan Silverman has a look at this year's contenders for Best Foreign Language Film.
The Foreign Language category was established in 1956 and since then films from Italy have received 27 nominations. The latest is Don't Tell, the intense story of a young woman haunted by suppressed memories of childhood abuse.
"Dear Daniele, I couldn't tell him" she writes to her brother, explaining why she can not share the secret with her lover. "I don't want his sympathy," she writes; "I wouldn't have the courage to look him in the eyes." Don't Tell stars Giovanna Mezzogiorno, whose performance earned Best Actress at the 2005 Venice Film Festival. It is co-written and directed by Cristina Comencini, who adapted the screenplay from her own best-selling novel La Bestia Nel Cuore.
The next nominee is from Germany.
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days tells the true story of a young college student who was part of the 'White Rose' underground movement in World War II Germany.
Arrested for distributing anti-Hitler leaflets, 21-year-old Sophie stands up to her interrogator who scolds her saying: "Our German soldiers are fighting for a free Germany. Never again will Germany be occupied." Sophie responds: "Until the war is over and foreign troops march in and the world points its finger at us for tolerating Hitler." The film directed by Marc Rothemund is the sixth nominated feature from Germany since reunification in 1990 and it made a strong impression on Motion Picture Academy president Sid Ganis.
"When I think of Germany I think of Sophie Scholl. My goodness gracious. I saw this beautiful, exquisite story just last week and these days when I think of Germany I think of Sophie," Ganis says.
German is one of three languages heard in the Oscar nominee from France - Joyeux Noel.
December 1914: British, German and French field commanders meet on a snowy clearing between their trenches and decide to stop fighting and celebrate together. The legendary Christmas Eve Truce is re-enacted in Joyeux Noel, written and directed by Christian Carion.
"It is not a documentary. It is a fiction ... but the facts are true: the soccer, the burial, the mass in Latin for everybody, the German tenor singing for the others, the bagpipes playing for him. Everything is true," he says.
Carion based much of his script on letters he found in the British military archives.
"I remember a letter from a British soldier who wrote to his mother and said: 'I met a German. He showed me the picture of his family and, you know, it's the same as mine.' It kills the idea of 'enemy.' When you meet each other it starts to be difficult," explains Carion.
Joyeux Noel is the 34th film from France to be nominated in the Foreign Language Film category.
A Palestinian filmmaker earns his territory's first-ever Oscar nomination for Paradise Now, the story of two lifelong friends from Nablus recruited to become suicide bombers.
"As long as there is injustice, someone must make a sacrifice" says Said; but his friend Khalid, who now has misgivings about their mission, responds: "That's no sacrifice; that's revenge. If you kill then there is no difference between victim and occupier." Answers Said: "If we had airplanes, we wouldn't need martyrs, that's the difference."
Paradise Now writer-director Hany Abu-Assad says he tried to take audiences inside a world they might experience only through a film.
"The only thing I want from my film is not to give a message, but to open questions and open dialog: to try to put yourself in the place that, in reality, you will never be ... that person or be in that place. This why movies are made," he says.
The selection of Paradise Now by the Academy nominating committee posed a thorny political challenge: how to list its country of origin. The first label was "Palestinian Authority," but the Oscar telecast producers have decided to describe as from the "Palestinian Territories."
The powerful rhythms of Kwaito music star Zola punctuate the second Oscar nominee from South Africa in as many years. Tsotsi, which means thug or gangster in the street language of the township ghettos, is also the nickname of the main character: a teenage thief and murderer who steals a car only to discover a baby in the back seat and the infant leads Tsotsi on a journey toward redemption. South African stage actor Presley Chweneyagae makes his film debut as the title character.
"Almost every scene in the movie is emotionally demanding and it was difficult for me to leave the character and be my own self, even after shooting the whole thing," he says. " After we finished the movie it was very difficult for me to detach myself from the character .. because Tsotsi is an island and when I played the character I tried to stay away from people and put myself in this guy's shoes."
Tsotsi is directed by Gavin Hood, who adapted the screenplay from the novel by famed South African playwright Athol Fugard.
Tsotsi, Paradise Now, Joyiex Noel, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days And Don't Tell - the nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the 78th annual Academy Awards.