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LONDON (AP) — Danish Afghan-conflict drama "A War" and searing Hungarian Holocaust story "Son of Saul" were among five nominees announced Thursday for the foreign-language Academy Award.
The contenders also include first-time Oscar finalists from Colombia — "Embrace of the Serpent" — and Jordan for "Theeb," a coming-of-age tale about a young Bedouin boy, set in 1916 during the Arab Revolt. French entry "Mustang" rounds out the list of nominees.
"Theeb" is a first feature from British-Jordanian director Naji Abu Nowar, made with a mostly amateur Bedouin cast. Producer Bassel Ghandour said the crew members were "ecstatic, many in tears of joy" at the Oscar news.
"The Bedouins are firing their rifles into the air which is a traditional celebration," he said.
"We are so happy. This is a win for everyone in Jordan. It's a dream for everyone who worked on the film."
Bookies made Golden Globe winner "Son of Saul" the favorite to win the prize. Set in Auschwitz, the unflinching film follows a "sonderkommando" — a concentration camp inmate forced to clean out the gas chambers and dispose of the bodies of murdered prisoners — as he seeks to give one dead boy a proper burial.
A first feature from director Laszlo Nemes, "Son of Saul" has been gaining plaudits since it took the runner-up Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in May. On Sunday it won the Golden Globe for best foreign-language film.
Nemes said he was surprised that the film had been so well received by the Hollywood film academy.
"We thought they only accepted classic films, classic storytelling, not such an immersive film as this," he told reporters.
The director attributed the film's success to its focus on the fate of a single person, which he said made it easier to grasp the horror of the concentration camps.
"We have lost the individual. In the depiction of the Holocaust, it was always about collective stories and stories of survival," Nemes said.
Tobias Lindholm's "A War" stars "Borgen's" Pilou Asbaek as an army officer whose battlefield decision has far-reaching repercussions back home. Lindholm said the story may have resonated with the film academy because of America's tradition of war movies.
"Afghanistan was an American war as well, together with Denmark," he said. "And I do believe that the subject matter — the insistence that the world is complex — translates around the world, and especially in the U.S., that has the tradition of being a war-faring nation."
It's the fourth Danish Oscar finalist in a decade. Henrik Bo Nielsen, managing director of the Danish Film Institute, said making the shortlist again was "a huge tap on the shoulder for Danish films."
"The selection today shows that Danish films are good, are worth getting a spot," he said.
Choosing the five films from nine semifinalists, the academy overlooked well-received European entries including Germany's "Labyrinth of Lies" and "The Brand New Testament" from Belgium.
Instead it gave a first-ever nod to Colombia for "Embrace of the Serpent" directed by Ciro Guerra.
It tells the story of an Amazonian shaman, the last survivor among his people, and his relationship with two foreign scientists exploring sacred healing plants. It was filmed in stark black-and-white in the Colombian jungle because the "colors of the Amazon are not possible to capture on camera," the director said.
"This nomination belongs to all of Colombia. It's for all Colombians, and we especially want to share it with all the indigenous communities of the Amazon," Guerra told The Associated Press by telephone after learning of his nomination.
"It's meaningful to me that the first Colombian film to be nominated uses indigenous languages," he said. "It's a recognition of the Amazonian tradition, and the indigenous wisdom that Colombia has not historically given enough attention."
France is also among the finalists with "Mustang," a debut feature from Turkish-born French director Deniz Gamze Erguven that charts the growing pains of five orphaned sisters in a remote Turkish community.
"I believe cinema can change the world," Gamze Erguven said. "'Mustang' is told quite lightly, but the subject matter is extremely close to my heart."
The winner will be announced Feb 28 at the 88th Oscars ceremony in Hollywood.
Associated Press writers Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Samuel McNeil in Amman, Jordan, Thomas Adamson in Paris, and Jacobo Garcia, Cesar Garcia and Libardo Cardona in Bogota, Colombia, and Sandy Cohen and Derrik Lang in Los Angeles contributed to this report.