Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria is a breath of fresh air that surprisingly achieves what many filmmakers have attempted over the years: a film comprised of entirely one shot. Victoria’s 138 minutes were impressively filmed all in one go. Of course films like Hitchcock’s Rope and 2015’s Birdman have been in the past edited to appear as though they have been filmed in a single continuous take, but as for films genuinely filmed in one shot, Victoria is the first to gain so much critical and commercial success, to seem more like a film and less like an experiment. It’s only other contender – the Alexander Sokurov-helmed Russian Ark – required five takes in total while Victoria only took three. Director Schipper’s insights into this limitation are fascinating, as he told Indiewire:
‘’We went through all the movements, but it was not entertainment. It’s probably like for you Americans, when you watch a soccer game, and it ends 0–0. I said, ‘Don’t be afraid of mistakes, don’t be afraid of chaos. The second one was crazy.’ … We had money for one last take. What came into the mix was that we got to know each other, it was fun, creative, inspired, but if I look at it now what came in at the last 48 hours was not just sprinkled on top but a big spoon of aggression.”
His relief is palpable in this interview, owing to the lack of money for another take. After the failure of the second, a poor third take would have resulted in a jump-cut final version, undermining the film’s key hook.
The film centres around one early morning in Berlin, where we first meet Victoria, a young Spanish waitress who has lived in Berlin for 3 months, working in a café where she mainly speaks English. She still knows very little German. Upon leaving a club early in the morning, she meets four men who have just been refused entry: Sonne (sun), Boxer, Blinker (indicator) and Fuß (foot) who have agreed to meet with a gangster, Andi, who protected Boxer during his time in prison. Victoria accepts their invitation to wander around Berlin; later, to Sonne’s great surprise, she agrees to replace Fuß as the driver to their meeting since he is too drunk, and it is here where the film really clicks into gear. When meeting Andi, they are ordered to rob a nearby bank, with the threatened kidnapping of Victoria used as leverage. The remainder of the film is packed with intrigue and tension as they move through the Berlin night.
Victoria is a refreshing film for so many reasons. It’s low budget and somewhat unknown cast grants a rough, edgy punch to its vivid action scenes, made all the more impressive given the restrictive constraints of its form. Particularly noteworthy are the performances of the excellent Frederick Lau as Sonne and Laia Costa as Victoria. These qualities are made especially impressive given the small cast of just six were made to improvise much of the film’s dialogue.
Victoria’s uniqueness makes comparison difficult; there are elements of the French Nouvelle Vague movement in its authentic portrayal of urban life, along with its gritty depiction of the city’s inhabitants and the social issues they face. It certainly shares features of Agnes Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7, which purportedly takes place in real time, highlighting the troubled life of a woman as she discovers herself wandering through Paris. Of course, this French classic was not filmed in one shot and it would have been impossible to do so, yet the powerful ‘fly on the wall’ effect created by long panning shots are key features of both, along with their depictions of sloping European cityscapes. Effective comparison can be drawn with Jean-Luc Godard’s film Bande à Part, which also centres around a woman being involved in a robbery. As for further viewing, 2008’s The Wave is another excellent piece of German cinema. Also featuring Frederick Lau, it is a fictionalised version of an experiment conducted in a Californian school in 1967 that demonstrates the terrifying power of national socialism on school children.
To make any marketable feature film in one shot is astounding; to create one so gripping and so filled with suspense is a testament to the sheer skill of the cast and the artistry of Schipper. This film is a must-see not just for its technical ingenuity and its place in the history of film as a feat of cinematic brilliance, but also as a thoroughly engrossing and thought-provoking work of art.