Will Smith (Photo by Corbis)

Long before the conclusion of its only shot -- a continuous 81-minute take -- the operative word for Stathos Stathoulopoulos' "PVC-1" is "cut." A case of an enthusiastic filmmaker's love of tools trumping concerns for thematic meaning and emotional involvement, the pic is inspired by an actual event in 2000 when robbers demanded millions of pesos from a Colombian family after placing an explosive device made of PVC tubing around the mother's neck. It's all there onscreen, but the single-shot technique detracts from the suspense. Based on sheer novelty, fests may spark to the pic, but wider commercial impact looks far less than explosive.

Long before the conclusion of its only shot — a continuous 81-minute take — the operative word for Stathos Stathoulopoulos’ “PVC-1″ is “cut.” A case of an enthusiastic filmmaker’s love of tools trumping concerns for thematic meaning and emotional involvement, the pic is inspired by an actual event in 2000 when robbers demanded millions of pesos from a Colombian family after placing an explosive device made of PVC tubing around the mother’s neck. It’s all there onscreen, but the single-shot technique detracts from the suspense. Based on sheer novelty, fests may spark to the pic, but wider commercial impact looks far less than explosive.

Greek-born, Colombian-raised Stathoulopoulos strength-trained for three months to prep for the shoot, in which he served as d.p. and operator of a vidcam strapped to his body, allowing him maximum mobility. In what was surely a nightmare of production planning, the story unfolded over a mile of physical territory in the Colombian jungle and was choreographed to create the illusion of a real-time crisis. The thought of the walkie-talkie logistics alone is enough to boggle the mind, but that thought frequently intrudes during the viewing.

 A motley group of small-time crooks led by short-tempered Benjamin (Hugo Pereira) huddles in the back of a truck, donning masks as they stop near a home. After killing a barking dog in the yard with quiet efficiency, Benjamin’s gang storms inside the home, and binds and gags Elvia (Merida Urquia), husband Solomon (Daniel Paez) and their children.

Although Benjamin’s knowledge of Solomon’s home suggests a personal connection between them, this is never explored in the pic, nor is any motive besides the obvious one of theft.

Finding that Solomon has much less cash than Benjamin apparently expected, the gang resorts to harsher measures to extract money. A two-section PVC tube, containing what looks very much like a bomb on a timer, is placed around Elvia’s neck.

Pic’s atmosphere of panic climaxes at this point, as the family realizes the grave danger they’re in. Even at this early stage, however, the effect of the roving camera grows tiresome and draws far too much attention to itself. In contrast to the vastly more successful “Cavite,” also a real-time drama involving a ransom demand, technique trumps drama. Here, the single-camera routine is limiting; some sort of montage could have possibly expanded the story’s coverage and underlying meaning.

Going counter to the gang’s demands, Solomon contacts authorities, and he and daughter Rosita (Liz Pulido) accompany Elvia by car, foot and hand-operated train cars over what looks to be a mile’s distance from their home to an agreed meeting spot. The PVC tube device occasionally sends out a hair-raising buzzer noise that freaks out Elvia (and auds), but it’s unclear if this indicates the gang is able to monitor its victim.

An army unit cordons off the area around the increasingly stressed Elvia, as a soldier (Alberto Sornoza) tries to dismantle the bomb.

Actors are, to put it mildly, in the moment, though any character shadings are sacrificed for moving things along. As a one-man band (he also handled sound), Stathoulopoulos certainly displays impressive endurance.

PVC-1

Colombia

Production

A Kosmokrator Sinema production. (International sales: HD Films, Paris.) Produced by Stathos Stathoulopoulos, Jason Hall. Executive producers, Vasilis Stathoulopoulos, Dwight Istanbulian. Co-producers, Kico Velarde, Frank Ramirez, Marti Esteva.  Directed by Stathos Stathoulopoulos. Screenplay, Stathoulopoulos, Dwight Istanbulian.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Stathoulopoulos; music, Paskal Tiger; production designer, Luisa Uribe; costume designer, Uribe; sound, Stathoulopoulos; special effects makeup, Juan Pablo Salazar; assistant director, Salazar; casting, Andres Velasquez. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 22, 2007. Running time: 81 MIN.

With

Merida Urquia, Daniel Paez, Alberto Sornoza, Hugo Pereira, Patricia Rueda, Andres Mahecha, Dario Garzon, Wilmer Medeina, Liz Pulido.

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