Qualifying for the foreign language Oscars has long been the source of some confusion, but this year the imbroglio of the world's most important film trophy is boiling over into resentment.

The Oscar for most angry country goes to Sweden, which argues that the criterion of language ghettoises national cinemas. Lilja 4-Ever, Lukas Moodysson's highly-anticipated follow-up to hit black comedy Together, looked like a shoe-in for Sweden's Oscar submission.

But as the gritty story of a Russian girl roughing it in Moscow is alomost entirely in Russian, the film faces the threat of being ineligible unless it is put forward as a Russian entry. And if one thing is more important than potential box-office revenues from an Oscar nomination, it is the resulting national pride.

"This criterion goes against the entire production system of today," said Staffan Gronberg, director of the international department at the Swedish Film Institute. "In the globalized, modern film climate with all its international co-productions, language shouldn't be an important issue. Other criteria, like the nationality of a film's director, producer, and scriptwriter, should be much more significant in this context."

The rule at the centre of the controversy stipulates that dialogue must be predominantly in a language of the country of origin except "when the story mandates that an additional non-English language be predominant". Lilja's story clearly mandates the use of Russian - the problem is that there may be too much. The question is to what extent a second language can replace that of the country of origin - and the Academy seems to require a significant amount of the country of origin's own language to be present.

An Academy spokesman added that films are also considered on a case-by-case basis by a committee in Los Angeles in November. He stressed that the Academy had not received any film from Sweden for consideration, nor any correspondence about which film it intends to submit.

Lilja is not the only film facing uncertainty this year due to the academy's language criteria. The only thing that seems to be stopping acclaimed "Eastern" The Warrior from qualifying as the UK entry for the foreign-language Academy Awards is the fact that it is in Hindi.

Ironically, The Warrior could opt to try to qualify as an Indian entry even though it is as Indian as Mission: Impossible is British. The Indian government would be likely to select a more homegrown film - but that is not necessarily the point - the only Indian elements are the cast, some of the crew and, of course, the language.

The British Academy, by contrast, is not interested in a film's language for the non-English language section at its BAFTA awards, only that it is not in English and that is has been released in the UK. "It makes no difference to us," said a spokesperson. "We don't mind if a Swedish film is in Russian."

Pia Lundberg also contributed to this article