The one-take gimmick is nothing new in cinema. Hitchcock gave it a shot back in 1948 with Rope, while most recently we have had Birdman employ camera trickery to imply an effect of one seamless take. It is often a joy to behold such a technique employed, be it for the course of the whole film or a sustained moment within. It is worth noting that Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria is a film which unravels all within one continuous shot, as if you didn’t know it may be difficult to actually notice. Victoria does incredibly well to avoid shots in which it is obvious where a cut takes place, leading to one of the more seamless examples of continuous editing that certainly I have ever seen. A gimmick is just that though if it doesn’t have a greater meaning for either the narrative or the characters within the piece. Thankfully, Victoria has plenty of character and narrative surprise to stand as more than just a cinematic gimmick, proving to be a thrilling and pure experience.
Ever had one of those nights that just runs away with you? Victoria (Laia Costa) is about to have one such night. The young Spaniard, who is now living in Berlin, stumbles upon the company of a group of four local guys whilst out clubbing, all of whom take a shine to her, particularly the charismatic Sonnie (Frederick Lau). Willing to see where the night takes her and eager to embark on a more genuine experience of life in Berlin, Victoria soon sees her night turned upside down when the group asks her to assist them with a highly volatile task.
The nature in which the narrative unfolds across Victoria’s never-testing 138 minute run-time leaves one in a constant state of heightened tension. As we move from the club setting, to hanging out on a roof-top, to the cafe where Victoria works, we are led to believe that perhaps this is the sort of film in which we are witnessing a love story form over the course of one evening. Yet throughout, even during the more intimate moments (a scene in which Victoria demonstrates her piano skills is heart-achingly beautiful) there is a sense of unease, like a Molotov cocktail being held by an individual desperately rummaging for a lighter.
The use of the long take is a large factor as to why we feel so uneasy over the course of the proceedings, seamlessly following our players up ladders and in-and-out of cars in incredibly controlled fashion. When the second act truly kicks into gear and the stakes become feverishly high, the amount of preparation and the impeccable direction truly come to the fore, as the perfectly placed beats of action turn this character driven piece in to a finely crafted thriller of nerve-shredding tension.
Victoria was shot over the course of one evening, from about 4:30am to 7am, accomplished reportedly in three attempts, and that is something truly incredible when you consider what occurs during the final act (I shan’t spoil anything here, much of the joy of the film is seeing it all unfold). With only a 12 page script, the actors improvised most of the dialogue, leading to very naturalistic performances, with the beautiful Costa and the rogue-ish Lau particularly impressing with a very convincing chemistry that fuels the proceedings even as the situation escalates to boiling point.
It is rather telling that the cinematographer, Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, is credited before the director once the end titles begin, as his work is nothing short of exceptional. Despite having to keep up with the action, action which becomes more and more complicated as we proceed, Grøvlen maintains a keen sense of composition and framing, never failing to ensure that the image remains sharp and occasionally very poetic.
Victoria succeeds as both a delicate character piece and a highly palpable drama that deserves a great deal of praise for its incredibly smooth mechanics, but also for its attention to characters, especially in regards to a central duo who we care for an incredible amount, an essential component once we enter a perilous third act. It is a film which rewards patience and remains on a knife’s edge throughout, resulting in the most unpredictable film thus far this year. If you can, I urge you to seek it out as soon as humanely possible, strap in and join Victoria in a night you both won’t forget in a hurry.