- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 24, 2012

LONDON (AP) - Their settings span the globe, but this year’s foreign-language Academy Award nominees are united in giving local stories a universal resonance.

The five finalists range from World War II Poland to modern-day Israel and Quebec, from an Iranian divorce court to the bruising world of Belgian cattle-rearing.

Front-runner among the contenders announced Tuesday in Los Angeles is “A Separation,” the story of a marital breakdown and its far-reaching consequences from Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi.

The widely praised film _ hailed by some as a vital cultural bridge at a time of souring relations between Iran and the West _ has already won the Golden Globe for best foreign language film, and also gained Farhadi an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay.

Farhadi said in a statement that it was a very personal project _ a sentiment echoed by other nominated filmmakers.

“For a long time I had this picture carved inside my head,” he said. “I don’t know how it got there, but once it was there I just knew I had to make this film and here we are today with not one but two nominations.”

“A Separation” is up against four other films, including “Footnote,” a mordant tale of rivalry between father-son Talmudic scholars by Israel’s Joseph Cedar.

Cedar said there was “something poetic” in the fact that Israeli and Iranian films were both nominated. The two countries are bitter enemies, and Israel has been a leading voice in international calls to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

Cedar, who was Oscar nominated in 2008 for “Beaufort,” said it was “very flattering” to be nominated in what he called “a great year for foreign film at the Oscar.”

Lior Ashkenazi, who plays the son, said he was shocked to hear the film had been nominated given its subject _ “two Talmudic scholars, the most drab thing that could be.”

“Who could imagine it?” he told Israel Radio. “It’s not exactly an action movie.”

Israel has emerged as a surprising powerhouse in the foreign film category, garnering four Oscar nominations since 2007. Two of those nominations have gone to Cedar.

Belgian director Michael R. Roskam gained a nomination for his feature debut “Bullhead,” a crime drama set in the world of cattle rearing and hormone dealing.

Producer Bart Van Langendonck welcomed the recognition for a film that “was written so it could be appreciated all over the world, even if the theme of the cattle mafia is extremely Belgian.”

The nominees also include the gritty, realistic “In Darkness” by Poland’s Agnieszka Holland, based on the true story of Leopold Socha, a Polish petty criminal who hid Jews from the Nazis in the sewage canals of Lviv during World War II.

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