I love movies. I love writing about them. Hope you like reading what I write.
Some of the best magic tricks are when you know what it took to pull off the illusion but you still have no idea how it was done. Victoria, directed by Sebastian Schipper, is one of those.
It tells the story of a young woman from Madrid on a night out in Berlin. Upon leaving the club, she meets a group of Berliner men who “show her the real Berlin”, eventually involving her in a bank robbery. Oh, and this is done in ONE TWO-HOUR LONG TAKE.
There is a sense that there is some one-upmanship in cinematographic circles at the moment. Your film has a three-minute unbroken take of a guy going into a club (Goodfellas), well ours stages an entire conversation for 17 minutes with no movement (Hunger).
With a digital filmmaking revolution, it was only a matter of time before someone would pick up where even Alfred Hitchcock failed in Rope and make a movie that appears to be shot in one take, last year’s Bird man being a perfect example, with the exception of a couple of scene transitions.
The most major example of what this film attempts to pull off is Alexander Sokurov’s masterpiece Russian Ark, which I believe should go on the watch list of all film students.
Both films are full length motion pictures done in one continuous shot. Both took three attempts to get right. Both are technical marvels.
There are notable differences between Victoria and Russian Ark which allow it to be placed in as high regard in cinematic history. While Ark is simply a tour of a museum and through Russian history (which became so beautiful at times that I genuinely wept) this is a more traditional movie. Think Reservoir Dogs, The Town or any other heist movie and you could put it there. Like all great technical tropes, the one-shot style is a means of telling the story rather than just showing off, though no doubt this is definitely a show off as well.
The first half hour of this movie introduces us to the titular Spanish woman on her night out and to the men that she has a fateful encounter with. Laia Costa plays Victoria and she is a revelation. We know everything we need to through her mostly improvised dialogue. On top of that the character she reveals is not one I would have expected to be in this position. I would have expected her to be more passive and victimised by the situation she eventually finds herself in, but Costa and the narrative that the filmmakers have given her shows her to be a far stronger and more interesting character than first appearances suggest.
The entire cast deserves serious kudos. I mentioned that dialogue was improvised through this movie, which is understandable since Schipper couldn’t exactly get them to go for another take every time they messed something up. It is often said that theatre is an actor’s medium while cinema is a director’s medium. A movie like this blurs those lines.
Through the 138 minutes that the camera rolls, we hear every line through sound design and editing so good it boggles my mind, and through each one we learn more about the characters and care about them more. I felt like I was among them, unable to leave them and not wanting to.
The fact that the story remains as tight as a one act play is a marvel in itself, though I will admit to finding some elements of the plot to be implausible. I will not state what those elements were, should I spoil the movie for some, but they certainly didn’t for me.
On the whole, this is an excellent movie. I can’t say that I would put it amongst the very best movies of all time, but I would put it amongst the most important technical achievements. And what’s more of an achievement is that it goes beyond an exercise of technique and becomes a highly effective human drama, amplified by astonishing technical skill.
Recommended Scenario: Whether you’re a technophile or a lover of good drama, you’ll find something in this movie.
NOTE: I must give a health and safety warning about this film. There is some severe strobing at the beginning of this movie which may affect some viewers negatively and unlike Russian Ark which glided through corridors on a smooth steadycam, this camera is quite shaky and that may be an issue for some of you.