Egypt has chosen a controversial relationship film as its first ever contender for the foreign-language Oscar nomination.

Sahar El Layaly which has alternative English titles of Sleepless Nights and Night Out, was selected by a specially formed committee of Egyptian film industry elders.

Directed by Hani Khalifa, the film, a drama about four middle class couples and their relationship issues, contains kissing scenes, sexual references and unusually frank discussions for the Muslim and normally conservative Egypt. In the film, one woman seeks a divorce because her husband fails to satisfy her sexually and another walks in on her husband having sex with his mistress.

Bruce Davis, executive director of AMPAS, is understood to have encouraged Cairo Film Festival President Cherif El-Shoubashi to form a committee to choose the Egyptian entry. The committee, headed by journalist Kamel El-Zohairi, screened 22 features and shortlisted two; Sahar El Layaly and Ma'ali Al-Wazir, a surreal exploration of a corrupt minister's conscience. But it said that it had picked the film for "its new and daring ideas and opinions," the "sophisticated cinematic language used to express human sentiments" and "the simple performances of its actors."

Khalifa is quoted as saying: "It's a human story that could take place anywhere and art should be like that." Cairo critic Ola Shafei said: "The film is very bold in its discussion of problems which were not raised so clearly in the Egyptian cinema in recent years."

The film was released in June in Egypt where it has taken $492,000 to date.