LOS ANGELES — A Macedonian war photographer returns to his homeland and is killed by his own family while trying to protect the life of a Muslim girl. A Bolshevik colonel's idyllic retirement is interrupted when he is betrayed by Stalin's secret police. A homosexual museum curator is deported for protesting artistic censorship in Castro's Cuba.
Political unrest in all corners of the world has lent a rebellious flavor to this year's Academy Award nominees in the foreign-language category, taking a kind of risk seldom seen in American cinema. Three of the five nominees -- ''Before the Rain,'' ''Burned by the Sun,'' and ''Strawberry and Chocolate'' -- use ordinary characters to examine the consequences of repressive politics.
The Academy sometimes smiles on politically charged films, as in 1969, when foreign-language winner ''Z'' -- based on the true story of a Greek assassination -- picked up nominations for best picture, director, and adapted screenplay and won for editing. In 1985, ''The Official Story'' won for its exploration of Argentina's ''dirty war'' of the 1970s, during which at least 9,000 people vanished and were presumed killed by security agents.
The actors in this year's nominees have made personal investments in their films. Serbian-born Rade Serbedzija, for example, felt compelled to play the role of Aleksander, the ill-fated war photographer of ''Before the Rain.''
''As an artist, as someone well-known, I had to speak out against nationalism; I had to speak out against war,'' he says. ''What ends up happening to Aleksander, when cousins take up arms against cousins, has happened to many in the former Yugoslavia....''
Jorge Perugorria, star of Cuba's ''Strawberry and Chocolate,'' says his character, Diego, ''is an example of how to be a Cuban.'' Angered over government censorship of an art exhibit, Diego fires off a letter that gets him kicked out of his country. ''Sadly, the worst enemy for a Cuban is another Cuban,'' Perugorria says.
Writer-director Nikita Mikhalkov says he made ''Burned by the Sun,'' a film about Stalinist Russia, in an effort to show a part of history that has long been ignored.
''We can't and don't have the right to ignore the history of our country,'' he says. ''Repentance is a duty for all those who have lived in this era....''