Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Film: Sabado, una película en tiempo real ( “Saturday, film in real time”)

Shooting the entire film in one shot, that’s, well, I guess a challenge that many directors were intrigued by at one point. Or not, maybe, but after Aleksandr Sokurov made sensation in 2002 with his “Russian Ark”, complex work made entirely in one take 90 minutes long and unedited, many probably got caught by this concept.

Particularly, “Russian Ark” is a walk through Hermitage museum, with paintings evoking historical figures from various eras, figures that then appear in live, in front of audience. Camera dances around freely, flees all over the place (through 33 rooms in entire film, covering 300 years of Russian history), in some scenes in even rotates 360o leaving us in doubt, where the heck the rest of the crew, the lightning and sound engineers for instance, were hidden? Actors and organization were flawless even though they had literally one chance to take it as no mistake could be edited out later; Last scene has over 2000 people coming out of museum; All in all, impressive work, even if impersonal and, in moments, very confusing.

Well, with such grandiose conception, I guess it should’ve been impersonal. There’s no place for characters where history takes a role of main character. For me, it doesn’t all work together that well. Perhaps because I see a predictable line of thinking in that: Making a first film in one shot seemed like a milestone project, something that would remain written in film history, so Sokurov probably thought that the story in the film better be equally ambitious and grandiose.

At the time I watched it, I thought that I would, in his place, go in different direction: work with more grounded topic, perhaps even work with clichés, and make contrast between form and the story be the star of the film.

Some years later I found that someone else was thinking like me. “Sábado, una película en tiempo real” (“Saturday” aka “Saturday, film in real time” aka “Saturday in one frame), Chilean film by director Matias Bize, takes many ideas from the concept of one-shot movie that the story practically grows out of it. First of all, film really is in real time, which means that it’s hour of runtime is also an hour for characters. Well, since shot never cuts anywhere, there’s no opportunity for time passing outside of the film. “Russian Arc” worked differently, by placing story partly in dreams and visions, it created an impression of timelessness.

The other idea that grows out of the concept is conception of fake home video, which this film is. At start, hand-held camera follows nasty-tempered Antonia (Antonia Zegers) on her way to ruin a wedding. We learn that camera is held (and entire picture taken) by her neighbor, film student Gabriel. She hired him and his camera to record what was going to happen.

What happens is that Antonia rushes into the room where bride Blanca (Blanca Lewin) is preparing for her wedding that day. Antonia informs her that she’s pregnant with her soon-to-be-husband Victor. Hurt, Blanca decides to find Victor right now, while still wearing a wedding dress, and explains things with him. But, whether for need of company, encouragement, for inertia or for need to have proofs, she calls Gabriel to come with her and record everything.

So, after that brief intro, camera follows Blanca through the rest of the movie; An unpleasant visit to Victor, and later, as the wades through the city, trying to gather pieces of her life and to find another goal now that the wedding (that seemed to be what her entire life was about in recent time) was ruined; It’s certainly a torturous journey but also thankful.

As far as the idea of a deranged young woman running ‘round town in a wedding dress, meeting friends in parks and chugging from the bottle wrapped in a paper bag, all while being ready to do just about anything on impulse – seems interesting, scriptwriters Julio Rojas and Paula Del Fierro supplied it with a lot of clever dialogue, with a lot of observations about life, but not very high-minded or even thoughtful – rather, a kind of things that an ordinary man would say when he tries to think about life, which just underlines the overall feel of reality and honesty. Even if perhaps unfinished, without a real culmination or dramatic structure (most dramatic moments actually happen near the beginning), it works here because the film is imagined altogether as another slice of life, stripped, unedited.

But what really fascinated me is how the director dealt with all the troubles of making film in one shot. For one, how he managed to fit into conception some usual modes of film storytelling; Take, for instance, how he inserted a musical intermezzo: unexpected because the rest of the film doesn’t have background music, according to the entire concept. How does Bize do it: He has Gabriel putting on a cassette while they’re driving in car. What follows is a couple of minutes of wonderful camerawork at landscapes out of a moving car, as long as it takes Blanca and Gabriel to get from one point to the other. Similarly, Bize uses a clever idea to induce a love scene, later in the film – and to direct it with more suitable static camera, as opposed to held-hand camera from the rest.

Getting from one point to the other was generally the problem with which Bize had to deal. Even with car, it takes Blanca and Gabriel several minutes to reach desired location; Bize fills those gaps in story with small talk, personalized conversations, or, in that one case, with music – but he never leaves nothing happening. There’s a moment when Blanca runs to the store to buy a liquor, leaving Gabriel in a car. Alone in a car, Garbiel is deemed to wait a several minutes in silence, together with audience, but Bize solves the problem with one cell phone: Blanca’s phone rings, and the time it takes Gabriel to answer and try to explain, is enough for Blanca to get back with the flask.

Indicative of resourcefulness of this film, are closing credits: they are written on the wall and Gabriel scrolls camera from one graffiti to the other.

This film isn’t nearly as ambitious or expensive as “Russian Arc”. In fact, it’s a cheep film, with several actors and locations in personal houses and outdoors. Still, it demanded a lot of organization and concentration. Actors don’t let the masks fall down for a moment. Choice of locations, having in mind time characters needed to get from one to the other spot, flawless timing, all needed perhaps more deliberation than “Russian Act” whose space is in the limited number of rooms of Hermitage. The impression is that we have a map of the city in front of our eyes. As low-budget as it is, this film is a great achievement as well. And damn funny to watch, I mean, mad bride running around the town, how could that go wrong?


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