There are few surprises in the initial slate of submissions for Best Foreign Picture. Last year's submissions were fraught with controversy, as Austria's French-language entry, Caché was deemed ineligible by the Academy along with Italy's entry, Private, which was dinged for featuring Arabic and Hebrew but no Italian. This year a rule change has gone into effect that allows foreign picture submissions to feature any combination of languages (not just the dominant language of the submitting country) so long as the primary language is not English.

Canada's submission, the first to take advantage of the new rule, is Deepa Mehta's Water, a Hindi-language film starring Canadian-born actress Lisa Ray. Mehta, though born in India, is herself a Canadian resident. Water was the third in Mehta's controversial and political "elements" trilogy that started with Earth and Fire, and features a story centered around the plight of widows in India, who are often relegated to life of poverty. The tale of what Mehta went through just to make this film could be a movie in and of itself. Initially set to film in India, the set was shut down after numerous death threats when the Indian government determined it could not ensure Mehta's safety, and didn't start filming again for over three years.

Germany's nomination, not surprisingly, is the highly-buzzed The Lives of Others, which was one of Martha Fischer's favorite films at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film is about an East German Stasi officer who begins to question the morality of his job while spying on a playwright. The film has already nabbed seven awards from Germany, including best pic and best director. The Lives of Others has been picked up for distrib by Sony Picture Classics and will show in the United States early next year, so with any luck it, at least, will come to a theater near you.

Other foreign candidates announced so far include Ari Kaurismaki's Lights in the Dusk, Finland's nominee, which played in competition at Cannes, and After the Wedding, directed by Susanne Biers, Denmark's submission. After the Wedding played at Toronto and rights to that film have already been sold. Japan has nominated Hula Girls, directed by Lee Sang-Il, which also premiered at Toronto. The film is based on a true story about a 1960s mining community which started a Hawaiian Center to try to bolster a sagging economy.

South Korea had several possible contenders, including Toronto Midnight Madness fave The Host and Kim Ki-Duck's Shi gan (Time), but ultimately nominated Lee Jun-ik's flick about a gay sex scandal and a mad king, King and the Clown, which will distrib directly in the US in the first half of 2007. Brazil has also announced it's nominee, Marcelo Gomes' road flick Cinema, aspirnas e urubus (Movies, Aspirin and Vultures), which played at Cannes in 2005 in the Un Certain Regard section.

Of these films, the only one I've seen so far is Water, and I've heard a good deal about The Lives of Others. There are still many more foreign noms to come, of course, but If any Cinematical readers have caught any of these films at various fests, feel free to weigh in with your thoughts on which of the submissions announced so far you think are the strongest contenders.