It would be tempting to automatically brand Sebastian Schipper’s gripping German thriller – which is shot in a single continuous 134-mintute take – as an exercise in filmmaking bravado, but this technically audacious experiment is more than a one-shot wonder.
Victoria opens with the titular character (played by Laia Costa) dancing in euphoria under the pulsating lights of an underground nightclub in Berlin. She’s a twenty-something Spanish woman, who works the morning shift at a local café with little connections to anyone else in the city. On her way out of the club, she encounters four free-spirited young men led by the charming Sonne (Frederick Lau), who convinces her to join them as they roam the streets of the German capital. They fool around and partake in some casual hijinks, but Victoria’s night of fun suddenly becomes a nightmare when she unwittingly becomes a part of their criminal activities.
This is of course not the first film to employ the single-take concept. Alfred Hitchcock experimented with the idea in 1948 with Rope, and Alejandro González Iñárritu did something similar in the Oscar-winning Birdman. But with those movies, the directors used various camera tricks to disguise the cuts and give the illusion of continuity. No such trickeries or CGI editing techniques are used in Schipper’s picture, however. This is the genuine article. Like Aleksandr Sokurov’s mesmeric Russian Ark, this is a meticulously choreographed odyssey that draws viewers into the fabric of the narrative as if they were a witness or an accomplice.
This technical and logistical feat is undeniably incredible, and this it’s appropriately acknowledged in the closing credits where the cinematographer, Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, gets a credit before even the director. You also have to give praise to the two leads, especially the pixie-like Laia Costa, who never breaks character despite reportedly having to improvise much of her dialogue. Victoria not being able to understand the German-language is an ingenious conceit. Her ignorance is almost like a reinterpretation of Hitckcock’s ‘bomb under the table’ plot device – where the audience is mindful of the impending dangers but she is blissfully unaware.
The singular shot does come with its problems. The tonal inconsistency and shifts in momentum is jarring, and some of the decision-making lacks authenticity and needs elaborating. Admittedly, these issues could’ve been solved with a good edit, but this daring filmmaking stunt offers a true, one of a kind cinematic experience. To some this may just be considered a gimmick, but oh, what an incredibly exhilarating gimmick this is.