LONDON (AP) — Hollywood's movie elite sent their love to "Amour" Thursday, giving director Michael Haneke's searing portrait of old age five Academy Award nominations including best foreign film and — unexpectedly — best picture.
The film stars octogenarian French acting greats Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant as a loving Parisian couple whose world is devastated by the wife's serious illness.
Unflinching, unsentimental and in French, it was a surprise inclusion among nine best-picture nominees, and also garnered nominations for Haneke's direction, for original screenplay and for the performance of 85-year-old Riva.
"I am very happy and gratified ... that the voting members of the Academy have taken the film so strongly to their hearts," Haneke said in a statement.
A foreign-film finalist alongside movies from Canada, Denmark, Norway and Chile, "Amour" is one of a handful of non-English-language films ever nominated for the best-picture Oscar.
Although far from mainstream movie formula — there's no happy ending — it has left a trail of enraptured critics and emotionally drained audiences since its May premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the top prize.
Tender and unsparing in its depiction of illness and death, "Amour" is a departure for the director of "Funny Games," ''Hidden" and "The White Ribbon," who is best known for films shot through with tension and sudden outbursts of violence.
Trintignant, who has appeared in more than 100 movies, has called Haneke the most demanding director he has ever worked with.
Haneke gives few interviews and makes few concessions to industry hype. But the filmmaker said the nominations were "a joyous occasion."
"It is fulfilling to discover that a film has found the audience and critical acclaim that 'Amour' has garnered," he said.
Austria also scored an acting nomination, with Christoph Waltz up for best supporting actor for Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained." Waltz won the supporting actor prize for his turn as a loquacious Nazi in Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds."
The other foreign-language nominees are 18th-century court saga "A Royal Affair" by Denmark's Nikolaj Arcel; child soldier drama "War Witch" by Canada's Kim Nguyen; seafaring adventure "Kon-Tiki" by Norway's Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg; and "No" by Chile's Pablo Larrain.
"No" tells the story of a Chilean ad agency that helped to oust dictator Augusto Pinochet through a clever marketing campaign around a 1988 referendum. The film, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, was a surprise hit at Cannes and has since gathered accolades around the world.
Larrain said it struck a chord because it told an unusual story.
"Dictators are not usually ousted through democratic elections and this is a profoundly human story, which is resolved through things that have to do more with beauty than with horror," he said.
"A Royal Affair" is a tale of love and intrigue centered on a triangle involving an ailing Danish king, his queen and the monarch's forward-thinking physician, played by former Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen.
Director Arcel said the nomination made Thursday "one of the most exciting days in my life and career."
"Kon-Tiki" recreates explorer Thor Heyerdahl's audacious 1947 journey across the Pacific Ocean on a balsa-wood raft. The 101-day trip was designed to prove that South Americans could have settled Polynesia in pre-Columbus times.
The $16 million budget makes it one of the most expensive Norwegian movies ever made.
Directed by Montreal-born Nguyen, "War Witch" — known as "Rebelle" in French — follows a 12-year-old girl abducted by a rebel army. It was filmed in Congo with a partly non-professional cast but set amid an unspecified conflict.
Its teenage star, Rachel Mwanza — who formerly lived on the streets of Kinshasa — won acting prizes at the Berlin and Tribeca film festivals.
Nguyen said that the Oscar nomination for "War Witch" was "a great privilege and an honor."
"I will always remember when Rachel Mwanza, after being the first African woman to ever win the Silver Bear for Best Actress (in Berlin), returned home to the Congolese streets of Kinshasa and was greeted by passionate chants and overwhelming pride," he said. "So, in the case of 'War Witch,' these recognitions do make a difference. They bring back pride to a nation that greatly needs it. "
But he conceded that Haneke was probably the front-runner to take the foreign-language prize when winners of the 85th Oscars are announced in Hollywood on Feb. 24.
"We're clearly the underdog in all of this. Haneke has such a legacy," Nguyen said. Still, he added, "underdogs are appreciated in the United States. "
Associated Press Writers Luis Henao in Santiago, Chile, Jan Olsen in Copenhagen, Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki and Charmaine Noronha and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless
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