'The Eyes of a Thief' to represent Palestine at Oscars

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‘The Eyes of a Thief,” a West Bank-set psychological thriller from Jordanian-Palestinian director Najwa Najjar, is Palestine’s contender in the nominations race for this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last year made history when it declared “Omar,” Hany Abu-Assad’s searing West Bank love story, to be a product of the nation of Palestine, rather than the Palestinian Territories, which had previously been the designation for films from the West Bank and Gaza. “Omar,” which earned an Oscar nomination but eventually lost out to Italy’s “The Great Beauty,” marked Abu-Assad’s second trip to the Oscars; he also competed in 2005 with “Paradise Now,” which was billed as a product of the Palestinian Territories despite the fact that Abu-Assad, who was born and raised in Nazareth, is a citizen of Israel.

“The Eyes of a Thief” stars Egyptian actor Khaled Abol Naga as a Palestinian prisoner returning home after 10 years in an Israeli prison. Through flashbacks, the audience learns that his character is harboring a dark secret.

Palestinian submissions for Oscar nominations are selected by the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, who decided on “The Eyes of a Thief” late last week. In Israel, the winner of the annual Best Film award at the Ophir Awards, the Israeli version of the Oscars, is automatically selected as the Israeli submission for Oscar consideration. This year, the honor went to “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” the stark, moving drama from Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz of a woman begging the Israeli rabbinical court to grant her a divorce from her emotionally stunted husband.

The Academy will announce its nominees for the 2015 awards in January. Israel last earned a Foreign Film nomination in 2011, when Joseph Cedar’s “Footnote” was nominated but eventually lost out to Asghar Farhadi’s Iranian masterpiece, “A Separation.”

Neither Israel nor Palestine have ever earned an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. To date, Israel holds the record for most nominations – 10 – without a single win.