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The Israeli film "Beaufort" was yesterday declared one of five finalists for an Academy Award in the best foreign-language film category - the first time in 23 years that Israel has had a finalist in the Oscars.

"I'm happy for everyone who worked hard on the film, which has received this honor," said director Joseph Cedar. "I feel lucky, because there was a great deal of luck involved in the tortuous plot we've followed to get to this moment. I'm happy that its candidacy will lengthen the film's lifespan: It will remain longer on the DVD shelves."

The last time Israel had an Oscar finalist was when Uri Barbash's "Beyond the Walls" was in the running for best foreign film of 1984. "Beaufort"'s route to the Oscar ceremony, which will take place on February 24 in Los Angeles, was full of twists and turns. Originally, Israel's nominee for the best foreign film of 2007 was "The Band's Visit," which won eight prizes, including best picture, at Israel's equivalent of the Oscars, the Ophir Awards. However, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which runs the Oscars, disqualified the film on the grounds that more than 50 percent of the dialogue was in English. Some have claimed that people involved in "Beaufort" were responsible for informing the academy of this problem, but the film's production staff and creative team deny this.

The film's competitors in the best foreign film category are "The Counterfeiters" (Austria), "Katyn" (Poland), "Mongol" (Kazakhstan) and "12" (Russia). The list is somewhat surprising, both for what it includes - all of the films are relatively unknown - and for what it omits. The anonymity of the competitors makes it hard to assess the Israeli film's chances of winning the prize. "Beaufort", which stars Oshri Cohen, Eli Altonio and Itay Tiran, is based on the book Im yesh gan eden ("If Heaven Exists"), by Ron Leshem. It describes the life of a group of soldiers stationed at the Beaufort outpost in south Lebanon during the final weeks before Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000. A year ago, the film competed in the Berlin International Film Festival, and Cedar won the Golden Bear for best director.