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Retrospective Film Review: Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria

Sunday 23 October 2016
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‘Victoria’ (2015) is an outstanding achievement: the entire film was shot in one single take. Unlike ‘Birdman’ (2014), which was lauded for how seamlessly the scenes were stitched together to achieve this effect, Victoria actually is one continuous shot. Throughout the film I was wondering how on earth they so perfectly made it look like that, not realising it actually was a single take, assuming it was too difficult. But cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen did indeed shoot ‘Victoria’ from 4.30am to 7am in April 2014, nailing it on the third attempt.

The film follows the titular Victoria (Laia Costa), a Spanish woman living in Berlin for three months, as she meets a group of guys while leaving a club one night. She tags along with the drunkenly humorous Sonne, Boxer, Blinker and Fuss; stealing beer from a corner shop; chatting and smoking weed on a rooftop; but eventually she must go to the café she works at to get some rest before it opens. Sonne, who she has sparked a flirtation with, walks her there, but it is not long until they are joined by an agitated Boxer and the other men, demanding Sonne’s help. The men steal a car and drive off, only to soon return after Fuss becomes unconscious and they need another person’s help, desperately asking Victoria. She agrees to drive them to meet Andi, a gangster who protected Boxer while he was in prison and now wants payback, which they discover to be in the form of robbing a bank for him. Victoria acts as their getaway driver, getting mixed up in a heist with dangerous consequences.

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‘Victoria’ is an example of expert storytelling, maintaining a gripping narrative without jumping from scene to scene to erase the ‘boring’ moments. Instead everything plays out as it would in reality, and perhaps surprisingly for a film that could cut nothing out, there are no boring moments. Despite a slightly slow start as Victoria leaves the club with the guys, we are soon captivated by her character and drawn into the events as they unfold. Masterly editing ensures the single take never feels jarring as it flows through the films various tones; the carefree opening; a personal reveal from Victoria to Sonne; the tense cheap generic viagra paypal encounter with Andi; the panic of the heist; the ecstasy as they celebrate in the club afterwards, during which the glorious soundtrack replaces the club’s music; and the horrible reality as the police catch up with them.

The actors used the Berlin neighbourhoods of Kreuzberg and Mitte like a giant stage, every moment planned, yet they traverse through the night with spontaneity and authenticity that is impressive considering how much of the film must have been precisely orchestrated in order for it to be filmed seamlessly. However, there was little in the way of script and most of the dialogue was improvised, again testing the actor’s talents, who give relentlessly emotive performances as they go from the euphoric high of succeeding in robbing the bank, to the devastating panic when they realise the police are on to them. Laia Costa is superb as Victoria, a strange mix of free spirited impulsivity with a sense of inexperience and a sheltered background. In the café with Sonne, she plays the piano to him with beautiful skill, and reveals that she dedicated all her time to be an expert concert pianist, other aspects of her life suffering as a result, only to be told at music school that she wasn’t good enough. This is a tender moment between the two, and cements a connection that makes it less strange when she accepts their risky request for help.

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This impressive single take technique certainly ensures the film is engrossing. As all the action really unfolds before our eyes, without the safety net of easily being able to do another take, there is a sense of authenticity that builds genuine tension and high stakes. Watching ‘Victoria’ feels like you’ve been thrown right into the situation with the group, and are glued to the screen for fear of missing something. Director Sebastian Schipper has certainly made a very important contribution to cinema with this incredible filmmaking challenge, which numerous people didn’t think was possible, and many didn’t believe was real. But it’s not just the technical achievement of the film that is impressive, but how skillful the storytelling is, which, despite no option to cut between moments, is completely engrossing and captivating.

Watch the trailer for 'Victoria' below: