28 October 2014 | rooprect
Not just a cheap gimmick, the single shot tells a powerful story
Alfred Hitchcock was one of the earliest filmmakers to experiment with single shot storytelling--that is, forsaking the conventional tools of cinema: cuts, edits, time lapse & multiple cameras. In his 1948 masterpiece "Rope", he tells the story of a murder and the slow unravelling of the murderer in real-time, using only around 10 cuts (which were unavoidable due to film cameras being limited to 10-minute magazines). Most critics called the film "experimental", but the technique remains, to this day, one of the most suspenseful (and certainly difficult) ways of telling a story. The audience is brought into a real-time drama, like Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, or perhaps a CNN broadcast of the 9/11 disaster. Real-time events remind us that we also dwell in the same world as the drama we are watching. And a capable director can make us feel like we're in the drama itself.
With this approach, there is no room for error; like a stage play, everyone has to be spot on. But "PVC-1" is no stage play. Unlike the minimalistic "Rope" which takes place entirely within 2 rooms, and unlike the carefully orchestrated "Russian Ark" (another single-shot film) which takes place in the rooms of the Hermitage Museum, "PVC-1" takes us across literally miles of scenery, never giving us the claustrophobic feeling of "Rope" but, perhaps more chilling, it gives us the feeling of having nowhere to run from a diabolical device that could end your life at any second. This is no tight, close-quartered, darkly-lit thriller like most. Here, scenes are wide open, unafraid to show the majesty of nature (a rural Columbian mountain village) contrasted starkly against ones mortality.
The story is very simple: in the first 10 minutes, a woman gets a PVC collar bomb glued around her neck. For the next 80 minutes we follow her plight as she & her family try to get help. No zany plot twists are necessary, no mysterious whodunnits are required. Plain & simple, this film conveys the feeling of facing an untimely death.
Director/writer/camera operator Spiros Stathoulopoulos brings us this emotionally gripping story based on the true events that happened to 53-year-old farmer Elvia Cortés on May 15, 2000. Don't google it until after you see the movie, lest the ending be ruined for you. Even so, you might be shocked to see how little information there is on the incident, and some of it inaccurate, such as blaming FARC, a militant group of Marxist revolutionaries. As this film shows, it was no grandiose terrorist plot. We see in the first 10 minutes that it was a case of common criminal violence over a petty 15 million pesos ($7000). Again, no elaborate spy stories or conspiracy theories are required; Stathoulopoulos is showing us a simple crime and its not- so-simple effect on people. This is storytelling stripped to the bone, and it works.
Even though there are tons of amateur "raw footage" thrillers flooding the movie world, there is nothing amateur about "PVC-1". Don't expect some shaky-cam "Blair Witch" nonsense designed to beat your mind into submission. The cinematography here is smooth and deliberate, and every camera movement for 90 minutes is carefully planned in order to keep the story & themes moving forward. I know I said that this film is raw & simple, but it still touches on some deep thoughts. In particular, it makes us wonder, what is the role of faith & religion during terrible times? Other moments rely on excellent silent acting to awaken the philosopher in all of us, like the scene when the policeman is standing alone in an abandoned building, his mind racing like a hamster wheel while, outside, we see traffic continue, business as usual. There are many such poetic moments in "PVC-1", and for what it aims to accomplish, this film is picture perfect. I haven't given out a perfect 10 since I saw Orson Welles' "The Trial", but this film truly deserves it.