Sebastian Schipper’s crime thriller has generated some significant hype in the run-up to its release, all based around the film’s central conceit, that it is shot in one unbroken take from start to finish. Alejandro González Iñárritu and crew utilised some technical wizardry to make it look like they’d done likewise in Birdman (2014), while Hitchcock simply added some inventive zooms to do so in Rope (1948), but Sokurov’s Russian Ark (2002) otherwise remains the most notable film actually shot without cuts. Victoria keeps esteemed company, then, and while it’s unlikely that the film’s comparatively insubstantial story will be well-remembered in future years the astounding technical achievement should, and hopefully will be.
Considering the demands of shooting a whole film without cuts, it is unsurprising that the plot is kept relatively lean. Victoria (Laia Costa) is a young woman from Madrid now living and working in Berlin. One night she meets a group of charismatic men in a club, Sonne (Frederick Lau), Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit) and Fuss (Max Mauff). It is Sonne who she is most drawn to and after a few laughs with the rest of the group the pair relocate to the café where Victoria works, to get to know each other better. Here Victoria reveals that she formerly trained as a concert pianist for many years and we get to see her skill at the keys; her masterful recital of a Mephisto Waltz is one of the film’s most genuinely surprising moments (unbelievably, Laia Costa does not have any formal training and only took piano lessons in preparation for Victoria).
At this point (about 45 minutes into the film) the one-shot novelty threatens to wear off. After a dynamic opening in the nightclub and a wander through the streets of Berlin – and onto its rooftops – the camera is kept pretty static as Victoria and Sonne acquaint themselves with each other. The chemistry between them seems genuine, thanks to two incredible performances, but because we’re made to witness all the awkward pauses and politenesses that might not have made a more conventional edit, a nagging feeling that the film is beginning to drag asserts itself. With one phonecall to Sonne, however, the pace picks up again and the camera is soon weaving its rigorously choreographed way across Berlin once more, as Victoria finds herself drawn into the affairs of the city’s criminal underworld. Her compliance is somewhat questionable but this is explained away by suggestions that she’s led a sheltered life while training to become a concert pianist and the fact that she is smitten with Sonne. Regardless, the last third of the film is a tense chase across the city which takes full advantage of the one-shot setup.
It is difficult overstate what a tremendous achievement Victoria is. In addition to the principle cast and crew six assistant directors, three sound crews and 150 extras contributed to capturing this seamless, frantic trip around Berlin. As already mentioned there are moments when the slow pace of the story draws attention to the technical contrivances, but there are equally just as many moments where the action on screen is engaging enough to distract from them. Amazingly Victoria took just three takes to get right – and in fact the second take was used as the final one – which shows just how much work went into the production before the cameras were even rolling. There may not be many directors who choose to go down the single-shot route in the future but Sebastian Schipper and his crew have set the bar high for any who attempt it.
Languages: English, German, Spanish
Director: Sebastian Schipper
Writers: Sebastian Schipper, Olivia Neergaard-Holm, Eike Frederik Schulz
Cinematographer: Sturla Brandth Grøvlen
Starring: Leia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowksi, Burak Yigit
Runtime: 138 minutes