Director: Sebastian Schipper
Cast: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau
Plot: Victoria (Costa) meets up with a gang of likeable boys while on holiday in Berlin and ends up hanging with them for a night of drinking, love and, eventually, danger.
Victoria is the kind of film that attracts any kind of film lover out of pure curiosity. While this movie doesn’t boast any mainstream actors, a famous director or even the English language, Schipper’s independent, low-budget movie has one unique selling point that instantly perks the ears of any film-maker, critic or movie fan: the whole two hour piece was filmed in one take. Opening with Victoria clubbing alone, amidst crowds of people and pulsating strobe lighting, the action takes Victoria through set after set, without cutting the camera once. Not even in a secretive, look-out-for-the-camera-trick ways, as we have seen with Daredevil’s fight segments, for example. Suddenly all the little tricks that Victoria does need to be compliment tenfold. Everything flows perfectly, like a well-composed orchestra. The actors’ performances are natural and impressive, but when you realise that they were asked to improvise the majority of their performance, from a mere twelve page script, their commitment to the characters are astonishing. They are asked to be deeply immersed in their roles on and off camera, to the point where the smaller beats that you admire become impossible to decide whether the praise lies with the director or the actor. Whole essays could be written about this incredible Stanislavski approach to the movie. However, with these one take movies, the main praise has to go to the camera operator. Director Schipper was so amazed at the artistic craft of his skilled cinematographer, Sturla Brandth Grovlen, that he is credited above the director at the end of the movie. As we have seen with films like Cloverfield or Silent House, one take scenes are often frantic, shaky-cam affairs, highlighting the chaos of what everyone is going through, here Grovlen makes sure the art of certain shots are never lost in the madness of the action. Certain frames are amazingly majestic. And this is, I cannot stress, for the entirety of two hour movie. Grovlen isn’t just a skilled camera operator; he is a god-damn miracle worker.
Now let’s talk about the why of the one take philosophy. The cynics in the audience will oust Schipper as a director hoping to attract awards to his cause by painstakingly creating this one take masterpiece. That is the kind of revelation that surprisingly kills the effect on the audience, as if the whole piece of art is actually a hollow grab for cash and fame. However, Victoria would not be the same movie if it did cut, rather than holding the shot for the entire action. What the one take trick does is create an intimate relationship between the audience and the central characters. As Grovlen gets right into the group as they party down the street, flee from the cops or have a silent panic attack in a car, you feel like you are right there with them. You feel like a character in the story, the claustrophobic camerawork helping you achieve the same tense breathlessness that the characters are experiencing. This trick doesn’t just work for the action moments, where the gang run helplessly from the police, using the same ‘too hectic to understand what is going on’ approach that many found footage horrors employ. The best scenes are when Grovlen uses the one take trick for the quieter, more intimate scenes. Perhaps the best scene is simply when Victoria and Sonne share a quiet moment in a café, slowly falling in love. The camera getting right into the thick of the action also does wonders for the performances, allowing you to see every beat that the performers use while trapped in improv. We see the hard guy’s tough façade break down for just a second. We see the exact moment Sonne stops jokingly flirting with Victoria and starts genuinely becoming attracted to her. The highlight of the performances has to come from the lead herself, Laia Costa ending the film with an emotional breakdown as the weight of her actions hit her. It isn’t the sobbing that gets to you, although it is an incredible display of acting prowess, especially considering the one take improvised approach to the entire movie, but the stillness afterwards, as Victoria gathers her thoughts, composes herself and moves onto the next stage in the story. Yes, perhaps there is a slight pretentious artistry to Schipper’s one-take philosophy, but it does give us a movie like no others out there.
Final Verdict: The method used to film Victoria is almost as impressive as the movie itself, the cinematographer one of the most talented cameraman I have ever come across.