Victoria caused quite the stir when it was released; following in the footsteps of Birdman, but taking the idea to a whole new level, this German masterpiece tells the story of one night in the life of one girl, in one city, and in just one take.
Whereas Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s Birdman gave the illusion of one take by using long sweeping shots, Sebastian Schipper‘s Victoria achieves it fully and completely, with one camera following our protagonist as she leaves a Berlin nightclub, meets a group of strangers, and embarks on a thoroughly unexpected evening.
The whole ‘one take’ thing is a novelty, yes, which draws you in to watch a story that you might have otherwise skipped; but it’s more than that too. It’s an integral part of the film which makes it the beauty that it is. It’s not just a talking point that doesn’t really add anything; it can’t fail to bring the viewer into the film, another part of the ragtag band of youths whose night it documents.
Despite the elegant and well paced movement between locations, the look of the film continues to impress – Victoria has won awards for it’s cinematography and it’s easy to see why. Between close ups of dancing in nightclubs to watching a face react to a beautifully expressive piano concerto, we reckon it’s a feast for the eyes in a gloriously realistic way.
It moves slowly to begin with, we acknowledge that. The first half does some needed character building, and grows a tangible chemistry between Victoria and Sonne, the leader of the group of boys she meets, but you can sense it being filled with improvisation and general ‘larking about’ which wears thin after a while. Stick with it though, and the way the film ramps up around a third of the way in and continues to build tension, throwing in twists and turns you don’t see coming, means that by the time the credits roll, you’re left as breathless and exhausted as Victoria herself.
Experiencing the night in the realest of real time, as the events unfold, the viewer sees Victoria transform from potentially naive and happy-go-lucky, to caught up in the midst of flirtation, to hardened and shellshocked, and feels all of those emotions right alongside her.
Laia Costa, who plays Victoria, is really compelling, and even more so is the relationship that grows between her, Sonne (Frederick Lau), and the rest of the cast. The film has faced criticism for an unlikely plot – after all, why would a girl leave a club by herself with 4 strange men in a foreign country – but when you remember that our story only just starts at perhaps 5 or 6am, after an already heady night, and that Victoria herself is breaking free from her childhood and looking for adventure, it hardly seems that unbelievable that she invests in these 4 men to find it.
The cast feel like actual people, adding to the complete sense of realness that the film hopes to achieve. You can’t help but wonder at what it was like to try and film a whole movie in one take, and applaud them for their delivery and maintenance of concentration and performance for that length of time. It’s a feat of endurance, and one that all who watch it have to respect.
Music, though used sparsely, has great impact in the film. The use of silence and then introduction of graceful piano melodies over carefully selected parts of the story lets us revel in the moment and connection of the characters – no doubt it helped to cover up any mistakes that the monstrous task of a take that lasts 2 hours must have presented, but the adrenaline-filled scene of all 5 main characters in the club comes to mind as the most beautiful use of sound.
An original concept, masterfully and expertly delivered, and a mesmerising cast that committed to their roles entirely – this is a gem of a film, and a breath of fresh air.
Who knew so much could happen, that a person could change so vastly, over the course of one single evening?