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Oscars 2017 Live-Action Shorts: Jane Birkin vs. Six-Time Nominee Kim Magnusson

Outsider narratives dominate this year's crop of nominees -- and not an American film in the bunch.

Jane Birkin in “La Femme et le TGV”

Courtesy Timo Von Gunten


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In the live-action shorts category, the contenders are often not American.

This year a clear frontrunner has emerged: “Silent Nights,” a drama about a Danish woman and her Ghanaian immigrant boyfriend from director Aske Bang and producer Kim Magnusson.

This is the sixth nomination for Magnusson in the Live-Action Short category, which he has won twice. The first he shared in 1999 with “Brothers” screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, for “Election Night.” The second he won more recently for “Helium” in 2013, directed by Anders Walter, who will helm the forthcoming “I Kill Giants,” an adaptation of a graphic novel starring Zoe Saldana and Imogen Poots. Clearly, Magnusson knows how to pick directors.

READ MORE: Oscars 2017 Animated Shorts: Will ‘Piper’ End Pixar’s 16-Year Drought?

“Silent Nights” isn’t the only immigration story amongst the contenders; prolific French sound editor Selim Azzazi makes his directorial debut with “Ennemis Intérieurs,” which depicts a French police officer interrogating a French-Algerian man seeking naturalization during the Algerian civil war in the 1990s.

The other three nominees are the colorful “La Femme et le TGV” (starring Jane Birkin in the lead role), the heartfelt choir drama “Sing,” from London-based Hungarian director Kristof Deák, and Spanish director Juanjo Giménez’s “Timecode,” and elegant portrait of loneliness and connection.

“Ennemis Intérieurs” (“Enemies Within”)

Set in 1990s France during the Algerian civil war, this tense two-hander pits a French-Algerian man seeking citizenship against a police investigator charged with uncovering homegrown terrorists. First time director Selim Azzazi has worked as a sound editor on films by such acclaimed directors as Oliver Stone and Volker Schlöndorff.

Azzazi drew from his deceased father’s personal experience to create the setting for his debut. But the initial seed of the idea came when Azzazi was working as an actor in a play about the McCarthy era. When France encountered multiple terrorist attacks, both in Nice and Paris, Azzazi became aware of the thread of xenophobia running through these three periods.

In a director’s statement, he writes: “I had a sense that the French colonial history, the Algerian independence war and the situation we know today, all that was tied together somehow. I felt the need to question our complex identity and remind ourselves of the Kafkaesque situation French Algerians used to be.”

“La Femme et le TGV” 

Every morning for three decades, Elise (Jane Birkin) has waved out the window at the train that passes by her home. One day, she finds a letter from the train conductor and the two begin a poetic correspondence that invigorates her lonely life. When the train line changes course, Elise must set out on an unchartered path and find her mystery man.

Completely self-taught, Swiss filmmaker Timo Von Gunten still lives at home with his parents. Legendary actress and model Birkin is best known to younger cinephiles as the mother of Charlotte Gainsbourg. Her last feature film role was in Bertrand Tavarnier’s 2013 film “The French Minister” (“Quai d’Orsay”). “La Femme et le TGV” premiered at the Locarno Film Festival in 2016.

“Silent Nights”

 

A Danish woman, Inger (Malene Beltoft) falls in love with a Ghanaian man, Kwame (Prince Yaw Appiah), after meeting him while volunteering at a homeless shelter. Despite disapproval from Inger’s mother, the two move in together. But soon a secret from Kwame’s past tests the balance of their young love.

For his third short as a director, Danish actor Aske Bang examines the place of the outsider in a script he co-wrote with his father. His previous two films, “Ladyboy” and “The Stranger,” center around a Thai sex worker and transgender woman, respectively. Bang cast Appiah in the role of Kwame just three days before shooting began, after noticing him in the restaurant where he was working as a chef. The film is produced by six-time Oscar nominated and two-time Oscar winning producer Kim Magnusson.

“Sing”

Not to be confused with the animated film by the same name, “Sing” has more in common with Damian Chazelle’s “Whiplash” than Illumination’s musical. Set in Budapest in 1991, a choir teacher takes a cruel interest in a little girl newly arrived at the school. When the girl takes it upon herself to investigate the teacher, she uncovers a dark secret about the truth behind the choir’s success.

Director Kristof Deák travels between London and Budapest working as a film editor. This is the first time in over fifty years that a Hungarian short film has been recognized by the Academy, though the country had a great victory last year when László Nemes’ “Son of Saul” took home the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

“Timecode”

Two security guards trade lyrical messages in this poetic drama from Spanish director Juanjo Giménez. Spending their shifts staring at still security camera footage from a sterile parking garage, Luna and Diego trade pleasantries as they clock in and out, trading their uniforms for street clothes. When Luna discovers Diego’s love of modern dance, the two strangers create an evocative back and forth.

The film won the Short Film Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016. “Timecode” is the 9th short film for Giménez. In an interview with Remezcla, the director said: “I learned that short films usually fit better with the way I approach filmmaking and what’s more important, that there’s nothing wrong with that.”

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