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🎬 #51 The Mystique of The One-er.
Filmmakers deploy the fabled single shot take for a variety of different reasons. But high among them is to increase tension. The best uses of it don’t treat it as a gimmick that becomes the focus of the story, but as just another method or tool in the filmmaker’s arsenal.
This week’s suggestion uses it to that end, to ratchet up the stakes and bring us closer to the story and the characters who populate it.
I apologise in advance for the single recommend this week and the brevity - normal service will resume next week.
2021 Dir Philip Barantini
This is a real one-er. Not one that is comprised of a series of stitched together longer takes. The filmmakers, in a similar to Victoria [directed by Sebastian Schipper] have made a truly unbroken 90 plus minute film. They achieved this by shooting digitally and ‘hot-swapping’ out memory cards as they went. A particularly nerve-wrecking job for the camera loader. They used two 42 min capacity cards with a third for the final few minutes. But this isn’t really important. What’s important is the effect of the single unbroken take.
It plunges us right into the world of Andy, played by Stephen Graham, as he prepares for a busy night as head chef in his London eatery - and for 92 minutes we are firmly seated in his high tension, high stakes kitchen. But that seat isn’t level or comfortable. Instead of dislocated, impossibly smooth gliding camera moves, Barantini and his DOP add more reactive moves and jolts, a more unsteady base to keep us on the edge - just as Andy feels. This camera takes us through a variety of spaces in the restaurant, both front of house and back - as we pick up on metaphorical landmines the filmmakers have laid - the tension dancing around them until they’re set off by a careless foot or two in the climax.
The practical aspects of doing a ‘one-er’ has a powerful influence on everyone in front of the camera as well as behind. The tension to not be the person to spoil a good take is almost palpable. Again this helpfully mirrors the environment in which the film is set. As a chef you don’t want to over-cook it, you don’t want to put a pinch wrong amongst the kitchen ensemble.
The largely improvised script adds to the uneasy sense of realism, the ‘baggy,’ in a good way, feeling of exchanges don’t feel sharp or snappy in a contrived way, because in reality people don’t speak like that. The filmmakers’ choice to do the entire film in one take [filmed over two nights just as Covid was taking hold in the UK] makes perfect sense for the story and for the setting. When service starts in a restaurant - it doesn’t let up to the end. You don’t have a moment to catch your breath or make a single mistake in the high stakes world of high end cuisine or filmmaking for that matter.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hrs 32 mins of my precious life watching this? Never see a restaurant in quite the same way again as you’re taken on an access all areas of life and work in the high pressure restaurant business.
*Available on Netflix and for a small rental fee on Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, Apple TV, Curzon, Sky Store and BFI Player.
Fact: Barantini and Graham made a proof of concept short film just a few years earlier. Bonus, if you’re in London you can visit the restaurant in which the film is set, Jones and Sons in Dalston, where Barantini used to work as a chef.
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