“1917” caused a sensation when it was released by immersing us in the heart of the war via an ambitious sequence shot approach. Does Sam Mendes’ film fit on one plane? The answer is no and we go behind the scenes of its conception.
1917 : an immersion in the heart of the First World War
In this rare genre that is war cinema, 1917 is arguably one of the brightest representatives of recent years. Sam Mendes’ film therefore takes place, as its title suggests, in the midst of the First World War. It all begins when two British soldiers, Will and Tom, are tasked with fulfilling a mission that is apparently impossible and suicidal. He their is asked to cross enemy lines to join a battalion which must go on the attack very soon. However, this attack in question will be fatal for them since a trap will be set by the German troops. Plus, it turns out that Tom’s brother is in just that battalion. The two men have no choice but to put themselves in danger to save hundreds of lives. Obviously, the journey will not be easy.
A technical challenge
1917 is an impressive film because it sets itself the technical challenge of being composed of a single sequence shot. Or, at least, to give the impression to the spectators. The idea makes sense to marry the subject because it is a question of urgency in the narration and the fact of telling the story in this form allows you to immerse yourself as much as possible. Sam Mendes does wonders, accompanied by the brilliant Roger Deakins to the photo.
The show has its effect, but how did the team manage to give the impression of attending a single sequence shot, when there are actually several shots in 1917 ? We know that cinema is the art of deception, that editing is a lethal weapon to fool viewers and that there is something of the order of magic in this art. To do 1917 with really a single shot was an impossible feat to achieve so much it involves complex elements (including a transition from day to night).
How was the film shot?
When you dive behind the scenes of the film, you discover some interesting things. For example, dozens of effects were used in the editing to ensure the transition between shots, without theeye not be alerted. The most common are necessarily the passages of the camera behind a piece of scenery or in a dark area. Tricks already used in other films which rely at times on the use of the sequence shot. Moreover, the longest shot in the montage lasts 8 and a half minutes., which is ultimately very little when we know that the whole takes almost a good two hours. But it is also an enormous duration when you know all that that implies, with a choreography which must be followed to perfection and an irreproachable technique.
Everything else is therefore an assembly of shorter shots, including one that lasts less than a minute! For those who have already discovered the movie, it’s fun to try and watch it again to understand how the edit works and where the transitions nestle. If you want to better understand the workings of the production, discover a little making-of below;