Even as far back as 1948 the one take film was an aspiration with Hitchcock’s minor classic Rope. An endeavour similar to Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman or Gustavo Hernández’s The Silent House, both he and Hitchcock used the practice of clean plates, filming areas or objects featuring no actors or moving objects to cut from the end of one shot to the beginning of the next, effectively disguising and continuing the ideal that there’s no camera cuts. The two may be 66 years apart, but they failed on the same premise. The desire to create a film that genuinely features no cuts was bound to happen sooner or later – that film is Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria.
Laia Costa plays the titular Victoria and the camera consistently stays by her side for the next two hours, parting ways only as the film ends. Opening with Victoria dancing the small hours away in a Berlin trance club and upon leaving she meets a rowdy group of guys including Sonne (Frederick Lau), Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker and Fuss. Too late to sleep it off before work the next day, Victoria joins the 4 drinking and talking the night away. The first hour saw Schipper’s film harvest comparisons to Linklater’s Before Trilogy, with Victoria and Sonne walking about town slowing falling for each other. In the second hour Boxer receives a phone call forcing everyone into a violent situation, at this juncture the film changes from a naturalistic romance to something more aligned to the crime genre.
Expectations would have you believe that for a film to function through such ambitions there has to be a degree of settling, there is only one chance to get a shot so quality becomes less and less important the further into the process. While the film we see is the third and final shoot this isn’t as much of an issue as assumed. As impressively as the actors are, plaudits need to be sent Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s way. Even before considering things like camera focus, depth of field or the more technical considerations a thought has to be spent on the number of shop and car windows that are passed by, for a city center it has to be in the thousands, yet not once is his camera in shot. Even before considering how smartly lit the film is, that is a monumental effort on his behalf making fellow cinematographers seem like mere mortals.
As impressive a feat as finally nailing down the one take film is, this is still a piece of cinema and it still needs to function as such. During the opening hour, the camera intimacy and immersion of the technique makes the characters on screen more real and relatable, aided in no small part by the semi-improvised, naturalistic performance. Like Linklater’s similar spirited films before it, as bolshy as they are it’s a joy to get to know these characters. This is at its peak in one scene in which Victoria performs on the piano for Sonne, afterward describing why she doesn’t take her career as a pianist any further. A scene by parts tragic and beautiful with the technique making it more empathetic, specially the series of bad choices that inform the latter half.
With Victoria, Sonne, Boxer, Blinker and Fuss being characterized as well as they are, the eventual trauma hits hard. While not as convincing, the raw energy of the camerawork brings an entirely new dynamic that keeps the film motoring along. Described by some as a gimmick (even though its not), any film with a flashy selling point will eventually bore unless it’s used as a jumping off point for something greater. Many films have cataclysmically jumped genres, look at Audition or Hot Fuzz, and it’s in that shifting that we understand how the plot develops in spite of choices being made that no rational person would make hence maintaining the believability maintained up to that point. To go from flirting on a secluded rooftop to being shot at, it’s more than understandable that bad choices will be made.
Victoria has been coming since the day cinema was conceived, someone is always trying to make a one shot film and now that it’s here it’s incredibly impressive in every single aspect – from acting to cinematography to production design and simple, honest choreography. Without that framing language, Schipper has directed an emotionally tense AND immersive drama buoyed by two world beating lead performances. If anything needed to be said to rain on this parade it’s the length, at just over 2 hours Victoria over stays her welcome by a good 15 minutes – alas the technique does tire by that point. This is the first time that such a feat has genuinely been achieved, hence that is a natural byproduct of the technique rather than denigrating the good, after all not many films like Victoria ever come along.
- Audio Commentary with Director Sebastian Schipper
- Casting Scenes
- Camera Test