While on holiday in Berlin, a young woman finds her flirtation with a local guy turn potentially deadly as their night out with his friends reveals its secret: the four men owe someone a dangerous favor that requires repaying that evening.
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Last year's Oscar winning Birdman
captured the hearts and minds of cinephiles everywhere with its illusion of being shot in a single take. Well, German director Sebastian Schipper (Sometime in August) has decided to raise the stakes with Victoria
, a movie that was actually shot in one take.
Played by Laia Costa ("The Red Band Society"), the title character in Victoria
is a young Spanish woman living in Berlin, Germany, who meets a group of Berliners while out at a club one night. She is on her way out, but the four young men convince her to have one beer with her and promise to "show her their world." Victoria hits it off with one of the guys, Sonne (Frederick Lau from The Wave
), and invites him up to her place. Just as they are getting cozy, Sonne's friend, Boxer (Franz Rogowski from Love Steaks
) interrupts them and reminds Sonne that they have something to do. They leave, but come back when one of their crew gets sick and they need a fourth person for their mission. Victoria volunteers to help, not knowing that the planned activity is to rob a bank just before it opens.
To be fair, Victoria
is not the first movie to be done in a single take; the Russian art film Russian Ark
and the Columbian suspense thriller PVC-1 have both been high-profile "oners" in recent history. What sets Victoria
apart from those movies is that, at a length of 138 minutes, it's much longer than either of its predecessors. Sure, the one-take thing is a gimmick (Victoria
's promotional posters even boast the tagline "one city, one night, one take"), but in the case of a bank heist film like this, the gimmick works. The writing is credited to Schipper along with Olivia Neergaard-Holm and Eike Frederik Schulz (an editor and a director, respectively), but the script is more of an outline, leaving much of the story to unfold in front of the camera as it happens. The entire film is organic and natural, with the actors looking and behaving as real as possible for the fly-on-the-wall spectatorship. Victoria
is lo-fi filmmaking at its finest.
Aside from the gimmick, Victoria
is your basic hip young crime movie. The first half is Trainspotting
meets Spring Breakers
, with Victoria meeting and running around with the guys. The burgeoning affair between Victoria and Sonne is cut short about an hour into the movie when it switches gears, becoming a Reservoir Dogs
-type of heist movie. Basically, without the one take schtick, Victoria
is an average movie, but, in this case, the way that the story is told is just as important as the story itself, and Victoria
is an impressive feat of filmmaking.
Director Sebastian Schipper and cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen deserve praise for even attempting what they did with Victoria, yet alone actually pulling it off. Obviously, the movie was shot digitally, with the cast and crew rolling their camera at 4:30am and cutting two hours and eighteen minutes later, capturing the entire narrative in one long take. The "screenplay" for the film numbered only twelve pages, with the characters following a general outline of actions and events while improvising most (if not all) of their dialogue. Aside from dealing with changing lighting and moving equipment, Schipper had to worry about things like actors choking their parts and random people wandering into the shots. Just from watching the movie, it does not appear that there are any cuts or digital manipulation, so if it's there, it's either so well done that it's invisible, or it was just minor stuff like taking out boom mics or cables that happened to get caught in the shot. Guts made Sebastian Schipper try what he did, while talent, perseverance, and a little bit of luck helped him do it well.