The international haul of cinematographic offerings is the largest to be submitted for the prestigious category, beating the 2003 total of 54 movies by one.

Films from Afghanistan, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Hong Kong, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal and Iran, were among those submitted for consideration by voters of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

An Academy source described the first-time qualification by the three countries as “very exciting”.

Politically explosive

The Palestinian offering, Divine Intervention, by Illia Sulayman was accepted despite some earlier speculation that the Academy would not take the submission on the grounds that "Palestine is not a country".
 
The film, which took the jury prize at Cannes in 2002, tells the politically explosive story of life under Israeli occupation, told in vignettes of reality and fantasy.

Mongolia's entry was the Gobi desert-based documentary The Story of the Weeping Camel, by directors Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni, while Sri Lanka's entry is Mansion by the Lake by director Lester James Peries.
 
Peries' movie tells of a widow's return to her home country and house after spending years living in London, only to be faced with painful old memories and new problems. 

Other countries

Afghanistan's entry is Osama(sic) by director Siddiq Barmak, which won the top prize at Montreal's New Movie New Media Festival this month, and tells the story of life in the war-torn country under the Taliban.
 
Hong Kong offered Internal Affairs by Andre Lau and Alan Mak, while Taiwan's entry was Goodbye, Dragon Inn by Tsai Ming-Liang.

South Korea's entry is Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring by Ki-Duk, while Japan submitted The Twilight Samurai by director Yoji Yamada.

Other notable entries include France's Bon Voyage, by Jean-Paul Rappenau, a movie set in the days following the country's 1940 military defeat and Russia's The Return, Andrei Zvyagintsev's Venice Golden Lion-winning film.

The nominations for the 2004 Oscars will be announced in Los Angeles on 27 January and the winner will be chosen from the five finalists at the Oscars ceremony on 29 February.

Last year's winner was Germany's Nowhere in Afrika.