In a single feature-length shot, debut director Michal Samir delivers one of the best Czech films in years


Rating HanyHanyHanyHany

Written and directed by Michal Samir. Starring Jiří Kocman, Michal Sieczkowski, Hana Vagnerová, Jitka Schneiderová, Pavla Tomicová, Ondřej Malý, Tereza Vítů, Karel Zima, Róbert Nižník, Lukáš Adam, Petr Janiš, Marek Adamczyk, Ondřej Mataj, Petr Buchta, Kateřina Pechová, Sandra Černodrinská, Annette Nesvadbová, Sabri Miko, Sára Friedlaenderová, Jiří Nácovský, Petr Besta, Adam Vacula, Justin Svoboda, Pavel Skřípal, Veronika Linhartová, Štepánka Fingerhutová, Lucie Valenová, Petr Kocourek, Jan Foll, Ludmila Kolmannová, Jiří Švejda, Vojtěch Duřt, Jiří Sádek, Michal Bednář, Tereza Volánková, Jakub Ondra, Bára Stulíková, Lucie Březovská, Boris Carloff, Ivana Axamittová, Pavel Janda, Adriana Karbanová.

Note: you can currently catch Hany with English subtitles at Cinema City Slovanský dům

Any discussion of Hany, the new movie from debut director Michal Samir and produced by 20-year-old enfant terrible Matěj Chlupáček (Bez Doteku) will focus on one particular aspect: the film, which follows a diverse group of youths over the course of a single night, was shot in one long, virtuoso single take that comprises the length of the film.

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Or close enough, anyway: there’s a time-spanning edit at around the 80-minute mark before the film picks up for a 10-minute epilogue, and the filmmakers have seamlessly blended three long shots into that 80-minute centerpiece, defying anyone to spot where the cuts were made. (I’ll play along: at a guess, I’d wager there are edits during two quick action shots, one where a character gets hit by a car and another during a street riot. But they are seamless: kudos to the filmmakers for keeping us on our toes.)

Given the technical and logistical restraints of shooting long takes, feature films comprised of single takes are few and far between. Before the digital age, the amount of film a camera could store necessitated the use of multiple edits; Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) was one of the most famous examples of a feature-length attempt at this kind of thing, with eight long takes rather crudely (given the techniques available at the time) edited together into a single long shot. 

But as digital technology becomes cheaper and more readily available, filmmakers have continued to experiment: every few years I’ll read about a new film comprised of a single take – like Dot, PVC-1, 21 Brothers, or 7333 Seconds of Johanna, which purportedly owns the Guinness World Record for longest film comprised of a single take – but I’ll rarely get a chance to see them. Films like these rarely see widespread distribution, with the technical achievement presumably outweighing storytelling craft. 

There have been two notable exceptions: Mike Figgis’ Timecode, which featured a Hollywood cast and four simultaneous viewpoints unfolding at the same time (ultimately, the film is best-remembered as a high-profile experiment), and Aleksandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark, which was an expertly directed, impeccably choreographed filmmaking achievement. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the final word on feature-length, single-shot films. 

Hany director Samir has a lot to live up to when he declares his film to be better than Russian Ark, which was legitimately filmed in one long, unbroken take (no hidden edits), and involved such elaborate camera movements and such a large cast that through pure technique it became a jaw-dropping spectacle – regardless of the actual content of the film. 

No – Hany is not better than Russian Ark. But that’s no knock on Samir’s film, which tells a breathless Rebel Without a Clue story that becomes compelling in its own right: regardless of technique, story and character manage to dominate the film. Hany would still have fared well if shot & edited in a more traditional manner. 

Not that the technique doesn’t add something extraordinary: as Martin Žiaran’s camera takes us in and out of a buzzing Plzeň wine bar, down the street peering into (but not entering) a residence, across the street into a more traditional pub, and then hops a tram for a ride around the block, the lack of editing – along with a rough-hewn, DIY style and frenetic energy from the performances – creates a building tension that explodes into a street riot during the film’s climactic moments. 

The cast is large, and the challenge of physically choreographing the actors to hit all the correct placements in the span of these long takes is impressive enough. But the performances – which feel natural and effortless – also hit all the right notes. As the camera moves from one conversation to the next and then back again within the space of a single take, it creates a sense of real-time realism: even when they’re off camera, we imagine the actors carrying on in character. 

Chief among them is Jiří Kocman, in a wide-eyed breakout role as a young malcontent and small-time dealer who enters the film upsetting the reading of a play by pretentious hipster Egon (Michal Sieczkowski) at a wine bar on Plzeň’s Bezručova Street. 

As Egon drones on and the motor-mouthed Jiří rambles on, we move to other sets of conversations in and out of the bar: Jiří’s friends and fellow malcontents, a pair of young women on a night out, the bartender and his patrons, a druggie who stops by to buy some product, a group of older revellers in the pub across the street, and a man (played by Pouta’s Ondřej Malý) and his wife who live around the corner.

They epitomize one of themes in Hany: the laborious discourse that effectively communicates nothing. Everything comes to a head during the violent riot between police and protestors – itself an impressive bit of filmmaking – in which we never learn what the riot is about. But the message doesn’t matter to Jiří and company, who use the excitement as an excuse to celebrate their own soulless rage.

While extended minutes-long takes remain popular in mainstream films – employed by directors like Martin Scorsese, Gaspar Noé (Enter the Void), Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men), and Joe Wright (Atonement) – the technique itself isn’t enough to sustain a feature-length film. But Hany has the frenzied content to match: this low-budget surprise isn’t just one of the better efforts of this kind of experimental filmmaking, it’s also one of the best Czech films in years.

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