LONDON — A Belgian drama of love, loss and bluegrass and a tale of tragic romance from the Palestinian territories are among five nominees for best foreign-language film at the Academy Awards.
The contenders announced Thursday in Beverly Hills include Felix van Groeningen's "The Broken Circle Breakdown," about a music-loving couple facing the serious illness of their child, and Hany Abu-Assad's "Omar," the story of a love affair and its consequences against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
They're up against "The Hunt," from Denmark; "The Great Beauty," from Italy; and Cambodian drama "The Missing Picture."
This is one of the Oscars' most unpredictable categories, in part because countries nominate just one feature each — leading to surprise omissions. The highly praised French lesbian drama "Blue is the Warmest Color," a Palme d'Or winner at Cannes, was not submitted by France because it opened too late for the Academy's rules.
But it can be a chance for highly personal films from small countries of the world to gain big international audiences.
"If there's a message here, it's make the kind of movie you want, believe in yourself and don't copycat," a delighted van Groeningen told The Associated Press after learning of the nomination of "The Broken Circle Breakdown."
"It's been a wild ride to make this film," he said. "It was a success in Belgium. But internationally it started up very slow. We went to Berlin in 2013, for its international premier, and it boomed. And we felt something magic was happening."
Abu-Assad, an Israeli-born director of Palestinian descent, previously earned an Oscar nomination — and controversy — for his 2005 film "Paradise Now," about two young West Bank men planning to become suicide bombers.
"Omar" also touches on a sensitive subject, focusing on a Palestinian man who becomes an Israeli informer.
Thomas Vinterberg is nominated for "The Hunt," a tense drama about a teacher, played by Mads Mikkelsen, whose comfortable small-town life is destroyed when he is wrongly accused of child abuse.
Mikkelsen — who played Bond villain Le Chiffre in "Casino Royale" — won the best-actor prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival for his performance.
"This is a little duckling of a film that has grown into becoming a beautiful swan," said Peter Aalbaek Jensen, manager of Zentropa Film, the company behind "The Hunt."
The other foreign-language nominees are Paolo Sorrentino's bittersweet love letter to Rome, "The Great Beauty"; and "The Missing Picture," in which Cambodia's Rithy Panh explores the legacy of Pol Pot's bloody dictatorship.
Panh's film, based on his nightmarish memoir "The Elimination," documents his own family's experience under the Khmer Rouge, which resulted in the deaths of his parents and sisters. It won top prize in the "Un Certain Regard" sidebar competition at last year's Cannes festival.
"I am very, very happy for me, but also for my team and my country," the director told the AP, saying the nomination was an important recognition of a film that gives voice to the country's history.
He said the nomination could be an inspiration to young Cambodians and artists, and symbol of hope for the new generation, growing up in post-Khmer Rouge society.
He said it is "very important that this be recognized and give hope" to artists, writers, technicians and young Cambodians.
Winners of the 86th Oscars will be announced March 2 during a ceremony at Hollywood's Dolby Theatre.
Associated Press writers Josef Federman in Jerusalem, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, Cassandra Vinograd in London and John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels contributed to this report.