To the more cynical viewer, the fact that Victoria was shot in one continuous take may seem like a gimmick, but the truth is, the film holds many precious, real moments that would have never existed had director Sebastian Schipper decided not to shoot his movie the way he did. This isn’t a “one-take” film like Birdman (‘Birdman’ lampoons Hollywood with humorous, hyper-real, hero-hating satire). There were no tricky edits to transition into complicated effects shots. This is a daring film that balances a genuinely intimate story with tricky set pieces looming ahead of the drama. It follows a group of young men in Berlin who flirt with a Spanish visitor, our titular heroine, dragging her into a harrowing bank robbery and its aftermath. And it’s all shot in one genuine continuous take. Yes, it can’t be emphasized enough because there is magic in it.
It’s funny that Schipper, who co-wrote the script with Olivia Neergaard-Holm and Eike Frederik Schulz, played a small role in Tom Tykwer’s breakout 1998 movie Run Lola Run (he played Mike) because this film feels antithetical to the vigorously constructed Tykwer movie. While Run Lola Run depends so much on edits that it defied rules of space and time, Victoria is enslaved to chronology due to the fact the film has not a single splice cut in the action. Yet both films share a kinetic energy that grips the viewer in similar ways.
The obvious energy of Victoria comes from the film’s vibrant characters. We meet them under the strobe lights of a nightclub (epileptics should be warned). Victoria (Laia Costa) is on her way home from an uneventful night of drinking and dancing at a Berlin nightclub, when a sweet-talking Sonne (Frederick Lau) persuades her to join him and his “brothers” Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit) and Fuss (Max Mauff) to extend the night a bit longer.
The push and pull in Sonne and Victoria’s flirtation creates an invisible line of power that’s wonderful to watch. Lau brings genuine charm to his role and Costa, who looks like a young Björk, is enchanting as a woman who can hold her own with these playfully rough dudes who sometimes allow a glitter of menace to shine through their rakish demeanor. The film takes its time with the mundane getting-to-know-you phase without any tricks in time lapse for sentimentality. There are a few scenes where the dialogue drops and dreamy music takes over the soundtrack. If it was meant to cover up flubs in the dialogue, you will never notice by the way the characters continue to wordlessly gel.
There’s a more subtle way Victoria exudes its verve. It has several wondrous moments that indelibly make these characters human, and credit is due to the film’s so-called gimmick. The single take works for this film because it captures both the mundane and the spontaneous with a sort of reverent naturalism, and you have to hand it to the actors for both keeping their composure and embracing these serendipitous moments. They barrel through small mistakes without flinching, including a dropped cigarette and a sticky door. But the real intense moments where this works best is when the action begins. After a lengthy chase sequence involving gunfire, when Victoria finally has a chance to catch her breath and tries to speak it sounds as real and as visceral as you might imagine it would feel for someone who has just had her life in peril several times over.
The camera work can feel dizzying, and there are a couple of instances where you might be left to wonder whether that red point of light in a window during the chase scene is a laser sight that is intentionally part of the drama but is really just a flub. Overall, though, Victoria features transcendent moments that overshadow any notion that this is a film driven by a mere gimmick. It’s not often that a movie can touch the human side of performance while being as grounded within the constraints of the medium, and Victoria is a thrilling, sometimes moving example of ownership of the cinematic experience.
Victoria runs 138 minutes, is in English and in German with English subtitles and is not rated (it has cursing and violence). It opens in our Miami area this Friday, Oct. 16, at the Coral Gables Art Cinema who hosted a preview screening for the purpose of this review. For other screening dates across the U.S., jump through this link. Adopt Films provided all images to illustrate this post.