"One girl. One city. One night. One take."
Since mid-2015 there have been whispers around the indie film circuit of a movie filmed entirely in one take. Where previous movies have attempted to create the illusion of the whole story being executed in a single tracking shot this one actually did it for real, staging and filming the entire 138 minute feature in one continuous shot. It’s been quietly released across various territories and I’ve finally been able to see it.
Victoria (Laia Costa) is a Spanish girl who moved to Berlin three months earlier, works in a cafe for a meagre wage, does not speak German and does not know anybody in the new city. Leaving a club at around 4 o'clock in the morning after a night of dancing and drinking, she meets four young men and joins them as their wild night of partying escalates into a bank robbery.
The technical prowess of ‘Victoria’ cannot be emphasised enough. Anyone who knows anything about filmmaking will know that the concept of executing an idea this gargantuan is almost mind numbingly daunting. What makes it more remarkable is how ‘Victoria’ tries very hard to not let its technical aspects limit it. It would have been so easy to just write a film with a minimalistic plot and setting, restrict the run time to as little as 80 minutes and simply film that as a single shot. But instead ‘Victoria’ is an active movie, with various changes in scenery and a runtime that verges on two hours and twenty minutes. This is a long film, packed with vibrancy and energy to such an extent that its technological execution continues to astound me.
Director Sebastian Schipper rehearsed this film multiple times and even then it took the cast and crew three run through to finally nail the film in its entirety. He had many alternative solutions should this massive concept inevitably fall through and was apparently prepared to shoot the film in a more conventional style if all else failed. But amazingly he somehow succeeded and even more remarkably the end result is actually has a cohesive narrative with engaging characters, something that certain films with all the time in the world and as many editing techniques they need still can’t convey.
One more time, there are no cheats here. There is trickery in staging film in this method. From start to finish it is a real camera tracking real actors through the real world. A principle concern might be that while the technique is impressive, after a while it may wear thin, become monotonous or uninventive but amazingly Schipper is able to employ multiple techniques to ensure that the actual movement of the camera is varied and engrossing. Certain conversations are filmed as intimate close-ups that provide us with an insight into the characters inner emotions, but the film also becomes hectic and panicked as well as fluid and jubilant when it needs to. It is often thought that editing is essential to accurately convey a character’s emotions to the screen but Schnipper, for the most part, uses these various techniques to convey these emotions without ever resorting to editing. Sturla Brandth Grovlen’s excellent cinematography is also crucial in to creating this impression.
But I’ve talked about the technical aspects enough, what about the actors? Well in all honesty Laia Costa, in the lead role, could rival the technical aspects of ‘Victoria’ as being the best thing about the film. With no editing she has to bring forward every thought process and hidden emotion to life through the subtlest of movements, the tiniest of glances and such an honest embodiment of what the character is feeling. Her performance is somewhat dictated by the structure of the movie, but she does such an excellent job that it’s hard to criticise it merely for that. The supporting cast are also impressive but frankly they don’t really need to be (well they do kind of but let me finish) as Victoria herself is the observer to an insane world, a mirror from which we can view the situation, if her emotions are clear the rest of the film falls into place around it.
Or at least it does for most of the time. Despite being enthralling the pace of ‘Victoria’ starts to sag somewhat at the 100 minute mark and never really runs with the same speed as it did for the first two acts. At the same time certain plot points and character motivations do feel as if they were too heavily influenced by the format, forced to be restrictive due to the technical side of the movie. But regardless it doesn’t detract too much from the more admirable aspects.
Technologically masterful and narratively engaging. ‘Victoria’ is pure filmmaking.