UK quad poster for Victoria
Victoria (Laia Costa) has been living in Berlin for a few months, a Madrid-native, she works in a little cafe and enjoys partying. On a night out she meets a group of men who encourage her to join them for a late party on a rooftop. Before dawn breaks her world is thrown into chaos as she finds herself a participant in a bank heist and faced with deadly consequences.
Sebastian Schipper’s 2 1/2 hour film has been generating quite a buzz since making its debut early in 2015. As it finally hits the UK much has been made about its ambitious running time and completion in one take, and rightly so – this is a brave and bold technical experiment that pays off.
One cannot help but marvel at the ambition of the project. Filmed with one camera in one constantly moving shot, in real time one morning in April 2014 (attempted three times in three nights – this is reportedly the final night’s take), over a large district in Berlin, with improvised performances based around a script that was reportedly no more than 12 pages long. No mean feat.
The performances are solid and convincing, with just enough awkwardness and naturalism (aided by everyone’s broken English) to make proceedings seem real. The camera positions itself throughout as a passive observer – consistently trailing the protagonists, putting the viewer in a ride-along position, an unacknowledged fly-on-the-wall, part-of-but-detached from events.
Directors have been exploring the long-take for as long as cinema has existed, constantly testing the limitations of technology. Past-masters include Scorsese, Welles and Hitchcock. Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) for example was an attempt at a one-take film within the restraints of the time: a reel of film lasted for around ten minutes, and Hitchcock attempts to hide every other break. Had he been able to run for the whole 80 minutes with one mag of film, it seems pretty likely he would have tried. But where Hitchcock and Schipper differ significantly is in their in-camera range. Schipper allows his DP (Sturla Brandth Grøvlen) to approach the visuals in a relatively pedestrian manner – passive, non-invasive, restrained – rather than utilise the camera as a part of the story-telling process. It is only in a handful of specific moments (at the cafe piano, in the car, the hotel room) that the camera dares to break lines and become more inventive. While one applauds the sheer tenacity to keep the camera running, there is some disappointment that the camera couldn’t have been used more ambitiously. A gauntlet thrown for another filmmaker to pick up.
By virtue of the real-time playout we allow for the meandering opening to the film, the long rambling periods during which the characters sound each other out before the drama is unleashed proper. We become Victoria’s conscience, feeling our way through a drunken, pill-enhanced haze, slightly befuddled and easily led by the moment. Once the stakes are raised following an interrupted moment of tenderness at the cafe the film comes into its own, and we’re brought on a heist journey quite unlike anything previously committed to the screen. From there the tension builds, is released, builds again and heads to an unexpectedly honest denouement.
For sheer scale, Victoria begs to be watched and devoured. If it wasn’t for the real-time narrative, I’d be complaining that it slightly overstays its welcome. Similarly, this isn’t the last word in one-take filmmaking, and I hope other filmmakers will push the boundaries further still. A bold experiment.
Victoria plays at the QFT Belfast from 1 – 14 April 2016, and across the UK & Ireland.
Victoria is available to rent or buy online from Amazon now.
Victoria is available to pre-order on Blu-Ray and DVD (released 23 May 2016)
directed by Sebastian Schipper
138 mins, Cert: 15
Language: German / English (with English subtitles)
Released: 1 April 2016 (UK), Artificial Eye.
11 June 2015 (Germany)
Trailer for Victoria