If much has been made of the astonishing one-take trick of Sebastian Schipper’s (Sometime in August) latest film, it’s just one (admittedly significant) facet of a thoroughly riveting and terrifically-acted drama.
Victoria takes place over one late night in Berlin, where the title character is a young Spanish woman (Laia Costa) who leaves a club and meets four men, led by the charming Sonne (Frederick Lau). As the group gets talking to Victoria, they continue to drink, smoke weed and enjoy the night, until it transpires that Sonne and his pals desperately need her help to complete a job that’ll guarantee a big pay-day for them all.
Right from the eyeball-assaulting strobe shot that would be enough to demand a cut on most movie sets, this is an extremely impressive technical feat; the sheer wealth of things that could have gone wrong at any one moment or outside variables that could’ve easily blown a take are unimaginable. The final product was reportedly completed on just the third take, and that the thing looks so good on top of all this chaos (for one, there are no noticeable cameras visible in reflections) is utterly staggering.
There’s a ton of location-hopping, car-driving, a heist, gunfights, and plenty more which make the single-take conception so jaw-droppingly impressive, especially when you consider the totally unnecessary attention to detail; Victoria exits a club early on only to return a long time later, and the same man is still there, serving drinks.
Much of the reason the film is so compelling isn’t merely this conceit, but Costa’s superb central turn, which would be an intense mental workout for any actor, even with a high degree of improv dictating the movie’s direction. Schipper relies on her beautiful, expressive face for 138 minutes, unlike other one-r films like for example Russian Ark, which divides its time among a large ensemble cast. By the end, we feel like we’ve been on a journey right there with her.
It would be fair, however, to call the movie a slight case of style over substance as far as the script is concerned; Victoria’s naiveté stretches credibility on occasion and even borders on idiocy later on, making her less personable even if the filmmakers make a half-decent attempt to lampshade all this. One major plot point in the third act in particular feels rather far-fetched, and yet none of this is capable to sink the totally gripping whole.
A marvellous technical showcase that feels like one-part Richard Linklater to two-parts Michael Mann, Victoria mines plenty of humanity out of its sometimes-ludicrous story, and should do wonders for lead Costa, who is a major find.
Victoria is in UK cinemas April 29th