In 1948, Alfred Hitchcock released "Rope", a film which consists of
only eleven shots. Hitchcock's intention was to film it as one
continuous take, but of course, the technology was not available at the
time to enable this desire. It's wonderful to see how far cinema has
progressed over time, allowing masters of the craft to be able to
capture moments of films in real time, and add an intense and more
realistic affect to their material.
In 2002, Alexander Sokurov's "Russian Ark" premiered at Cannes. A 97
minute one-take marvel, without a specific narrative, that was filmed
entirely in the Winter Palace of the Russian heritage museum. Other
such films that have utilised similar techniques include "Timecode"
(consisting of four separate but simultaneously continuous shots),
"Birdman: or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance" (A.G. Inarritu's Oscar
winning black comedy, edited to flow as one continuous take) and PVC-1
(a Columbian film consisting of one 84 minute take). We can now add
Victoria to this canon of films.
The technical achievement of "Victoria" can not be completely
appreciated until the final credits roll. It's exhausting. An
engrossing, kinetic and intense exercise in filmmaking that will not
appeal to all audiences. But, to those it does strike the appeal
towards, you are in for a treat. For over two hours, the camera does
not cut once. We are with our title character every step of the way.
Many films that take on this bold challenge of constructing a piece of
cinema using one shot often limit themselves to a single (or few)
locations and rarely exceed a duration of 100 minutes.
For 134 minutes, we span across 22 locations throughout Berlin,
starting at a techno club where we meet our Spanish protagonist,
Victoria (played beautifully by Laia Costa). The opening shot is a
pulsating one, in which you can not ignore. The blue strobe lights fade
in, a beat pulsates heavily, and there, slowly coming into focus, is
Victoria dancing - essentially by herself. Her loneliness is set up
early on the film, with her isolated/out-of-place presence around the
club and the fact that she asks the bartender himself if he'd like to
have a drink.
As she leaves the club, she bumps into four men: Sonne (Frederick Lau),
Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit) and Fuss (Max Mauff).
They're an odd set of characters (with names that would suit reindeers
better) but they show Victoria attention, attention that she appears to
have been craving whilst living alone in Berlin. The group appears to
be led by Sonne, or at least he is the one whom Victoria hits it off
with the most. They ask if she wants to join them to celebrate Fuss's
birthday. Initially unsure, she agrees. Seems unlikely? Don't worry
you'll be glad she did.
After spending more time with these men, moving across rooftops and
through the streets, we end up at the café which Victoria works at, and
which she has to open for or in the morning. Keep in mind that it's
past 5AM by this point, so her sleep would be limited. This moment
feels like the core of "Victoria" (as both a film and character). A
sudden impromptu piano sequence shows a much more emotional side to
Victoria, and further expands upon the possible romantic opportunities
between herself and Sonne. The sequence which follows completely shifts
the film into a separate genre, and that's what is so great about it.
We have now entered the genre of 'crime', where by in which our boys
owe a favour to a certain "not-to-be-reckoned-with" figure. Your heart
will be in your throat during certain points as Victoria is roped into
an intense bank heist.
The film is never pigeon-holed into being "one-thing". It's bold and
fierece and often sprawls in unexpected directions, all the while it
beautifully maintains its stunning one-shot sequence, allowing us to
experience every single moment over this 2 hour + period. Is all of it
necessary? Maybe not, some scenes seem a little stretched, but hey,
it's part of the experience. From what I believe, the original
screenplay was only about 12 pages long, meaning that the vast majority
of dialogue is improvised. This is evident during various of points of
the film, but it's easy to forgive any falsities. The cast (especially
Costa and Lau) do an excellent job of maintaining an intense sense of
realism, which may occasionally fall slack, but thankfully with
Schipper's tight direction, it's not very often.
Premiering at the 66th Berlin Film Festival, cinematographer Sturla
Grovlen won the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution for
Cinematography. It's no surprise as to why, the cinematography is
daring and audacious and wildly contributes towards constructing a
naturalistic atmosphere. It's a stunning achievement, and the film as
whole is not perfect, but it knows that. It happily unfolds itself as a
genre transcending piece of cinema that often has unexpected moments of
dark beauty hiding up its sleeve. Enjoy.