In 1976, Claude Lelouch released a short film called C’était un rendez-vous (It was a date). This comprised a single take, shot from beneath the front of an unseen vehicle as it raced early in the morning at very high speed past various landmarks of Paris, before the driver (Lelouch himself) pulls in and gets out to embrace a young woman running up to meet him from the Montmartre steps. The film lasted eight minutes, then the maximum length of a 1000ft 35mm film reel. C’était un rendez-vous was not the first one-shot film, but no doubt both its romantic theme and its very title have inspired Pablo Olmos Arrayales’ Rendez-vous, which, made in the age of digital cameras when a single take really can extend to the full length of a feature, joins films as otherwise varied as Mike Figgis’ Timecode (2000), Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark (2002), Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria (2014) and Erik Poppe’s Utøya: July 22 (2018) in presenting its action as an unbroken sequence, in a format that insists on its own vérité while simultaneously foregrounding its own artifice.
Like Lelouch’s short, writer/director Arrayales’ feature debut has a date at its centre. Rendez-vous opens with Lili (Helena Puig) waiting outside an art gallery, and starting to think that she has been stood up. When Eduardo (Antonio Alcantara) finally shows, some 35 minutes late, the first thing Lili does is report in to her roommate Laura (with whom she has been constantly exchanging texts) – a subtle reminder of the potential dangers in online dating. Nonetheless, as Lili and Eduardo walk and talk through the evening streets, followed or even anticipated by DP Luis Enrique Carrión’s ever-mobile camera, the film takes on the feel of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995), letting these two strangers quickly get to know each other. Sparks soon fly, in spite, or perhaps because, of subtle differences in the characters’ personalities. Lili is particularly keen on committing to this relationship fast, within no time asking, “Do you want to have a partner for the rest of your life?”, whereas Eduardo is more careful and dilatory (“Ask me that later,” he responds). Lili is spontaneous and likes “improvising”, whereas Eduardo is “more of a planner”, and has researched in advance all that he could about Lili from her social media pages – and so they lay out, together between them, the two opposing dynamics (meticulous preparation, and an ability to ad lib when necessary) required to make a one-take film like this work.
When they end up back at Eduardo’s luxurious apartment for fine wine and dinner, there is little doubt that romance is on the cards – but as their guard is let down and their true selves are revealed, the film takes a much darker turn, midway between twisty thriller and wry farce. “In Mexico, stories don’t always have happy endings”, Eduardo tells Lili, and adds that in movies, unlike in real life, the hero and villain are “usually easy to identify”, citing Star Wars (1977), where “Princess Leia always dresses in pristine white, while Lord Darth Vader [is] in all-black.” Yet owing to the monochrome presentation of Rendez-vous, in fact everyone and everything here is in black and white, yet the players’ morality is blurred and grey and hard (at least at first) to read. The tale that follows – of deception and betrayal, abduction and torture, revenge and murder – may gradually acquire the qualities of a horror film, but like Nicolas Pesce’s Piercing (2018), it never forgets to concern itself precisely with the nuances and negotiations of modern courtship, in all its perils and pitfalls. Meanwhile, the immediacy and intimacy of the continuous camerawork traces, in very real time, every beat of this not altogether real relationship, from its initial meet-cute to its ultimate consummation.
strap: Pablo Olmos Arrayales’ single-take relationship psychodrama traces the twists and turns of a romance from its initial meet-cute to its bitter end
© Anton Bitel