‘Their calm ubiquity verges on supernatural’
A deep bass note abruptly announces ‘UNUS’. The blurred face of a model stares emotionless at the viewer. A clock starts ticking. Reality is distorted as the shot travels around a sparse room, revealing the same figure reflected in a mirror, yet dressed differently. In defiance of time and space, the model starts her journey, walking where her double stood seconds ago.
Photographer and filmmaker Efosa Osaghae opens with a striking command of visual and audio senses. Tension exudes from the models’ composure; their calm ubiquity verges on supernatural. The sultry expressions, omnipresent ticking and unexplained exchanges of a Polaroid picture cultivate an ominous, indefinable suspense.
Efosa Osaghae is a film studies student at King’s College London. He chose to create this film to gain practical experience; an unrequired practice for his course. Film studies at King’s College London offers mainly theoretical modules ranging expansively from early Film History to Contemporary Hollywood, Documentary to Avant Garde.
Osaghae was inspired by Ryan Hope’s film for William Tempest’s River Island collection, drawing on the ‘finesse and artistic value’ he saw in it. Like Hope, Osaghae was keen to construct a narrative and intellectually engage the audience in addition to promoting a collection. Osaghae describes Hope’s technique, filming a singular uninterrupted take, as ‘unique’ for a fashion film.
Another recent reference in one-take cinematography is ‘Birdman’, the 2014 film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. ‘I was adamant to create a one-take film, someway… somehow’ says Osaghae.
Like Hope, Osaghae uses a similarly electrifying soundtrack in UNUS; an effect to enhance the audience’s unease and anticipation. The camera predominantly follows one of the two models; we are shown little more than what they see. Their view is ours. No word is spoken, only variations in the soundtrack momentarily release the tension, until the ticking resumes.
Osaghae plays with the set to further charge your senses. Silent characters linger in the empty rooms of the Cre8 studio. They show a muted disregard for the Polaroid exchange between the main models. How can they ignore these two stony-faced women who repeatedly meet for a silent trade? Their indifference challenges your own perception.
The lighting forbids any sense of ease you might draw from the presence of others. The obtrusive brightness of the opening frame, slightly focused on the first model’s face, abruptly follows the darkness of the title page. This stark contrast of light and dark continues throughout. Strobe lighting strips away any warmth within the frame; the walls present a bare, cold backdrop. The brief journey outside and into natural light is short lived as the model soon returns to complete darkness.
Osaghae’s film evokes peculiar emotions and one feels slightly off-balance whilst watching the eight minutes long take. The narrative will occasionally hurtle forward, forbidding any moment of recollection as the various models seem propelled to the next odd encounter. This technique is a result of sixty hours of editing by Osaghae, cinematographer Dijian Eccles and illustrator Carlos Nieto, using speed ramps to fast-forward intersecting scenes.
Alongside its assault of the senses, the film offers a stabilising element: the outfits by Elizabeth Divine. Their block colours contrast the raw, stripped back setting. The models seem empowered by the bold, chic dresses; they walk with purpose and authority. Fashion designer Neco London also provided his design skills to the filming process in addition to an acting role.
With the final Polaroid transaction Osaghae is ready to reveal the secret behind his one-take film. Two female models, filmed uninterrupted, distort reality as they appear to continually change outfits. How? They are two sets of twins. Osaghae explains the title choice ‘UNUS’, meaning ‘one’ in Latin, which represents the union of the different siblings. He said ‘each twin is styled as their other twin. They are presented as one’ with the intention of fooling the audience until the end.
The UNUS team worked against the clock and faced the challenge of an unrehearsed cast and crew; the five takes however, provided sufficient footage. Osaghae described the one-take process as ‘extremely hard’ with an inevitably time consuming post-production. The limited time available, lack of rehearsals and variety of environments constantly affecting exposure was ‘near unfeasible’.
Despite these setbacks, Efosa Osaghae created with UNUS eight powerful minutes, producing a raw and powerful display of fashion within an exciting film.
Efosa Osaghae is a student of film studies at King’s College London. Follow him on Twitter at: @efosaghae and on Instagram at: @efosaosaghae . Visit Efosa Osaghae’s website to view his photography and film work.