The single-take shot has become a kind of game of one-upmanship over the past decade. Filmmakers such as Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro G. Inñárritu have used the device in a way that has elevated the art form of filmmaking itself. More and more filmmakers are making similarly impressive attempts and for good reason. Think of how much more gets added to a scene with only minimal cuts, how much more involved we become as viewers. Our lives don’t get to be edited down in any way, so when a scene holds on an emotion or an event for a sustained period of time without editing, it draws us in even more, whether we notice the technique or not (if I ever do notice it, I start running the clock after a minute, just to see how long the camera holds before any noticeable cuts. I can’t help it and I know I’m not alone in that).
I’m a sucker for it, in any case. I appreciate the attempt even if it involves special effects to hide the edit or if the movie doesn’t work, regardless. For some reason, a short film like “The Cut (La coupe)” impresses me more than an extended single-tale action sequence. Perhaps I’m biased because I have worked with kids on film shoots and have attempted single-take shots with them. It’s tough. You never know what kind of performance you’re going to get from one take to the next. The kid who plays Fannie in “The Cut (La coupe),” Milya Corbell-Gauvreau, seems as though she is doing the first take. It’s not. It’s take 23 of a twelve-minute shot where the emotions go from genuine childhood giddiness to the sadness of growing up and losing interest in your parental figures. (It took two days to finally get the shot right).
That is a lot to cram into a deceptively simple short film, but director Geneviève Dulude-De Celles and her cast have us believing every minute, as the charming and precocious Fannie excitedly gives her father (Alain Houle) a haircut that only a child could give and getting very excited about making popcorn and watching a movie with him later that evening. Then a phone call comes and suddenly, Fannie has other interests and knows she has to let her father down easily by requesting to go off with her friends at a party instead. The silences between the dialogue make the moment devastating and the viewer is left wondering if they should leave the room so these two could be alone. Again, thanks to the strong performances and that single take.
“The Cut (La coupe)” is a beautiful piece of work. I programmed it five years ago for the Chicago Critics Film Festival and it was easily one of my favorites of that year. It’s the perfect kind of short film, one where you notice the characters first and the technique second. As it should be.