VICTORIA (Germany/15A/134mins)
Directed by Sebastian Schipper. Starring Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit, Max Mauff.
THE PLOT: One unremarkable night in Berlin, Victoria (Laia Costa) meets four men in a nightclub. Not wanting to go home just yet, Victoria goes for a drink with Sonne (Frederick Lau), Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit) and Fuss (Max Mauff). When Fuss becomes to drunk to even stand, Victoria is drafted in by her new friends to drive them to a meeting… This is where the night takes the first of many unexpected turns.
THE VERDICT: If you have heard of ‘Victoria’, chances are you have heard that it is filmed in one long, continuous shot lasting 134 minutes. While this is seriously impressive and adds a certain urgency to the film, this is not the only impressive thing about the film, which is well acted, warm and engaging.
Laia Costa does a wonderful job of holding the film together in the title role. This is Victoria’s story, and it is she that we are on the journey with. Although we learn little about the character through exposition – other than she is a gifted pianist – Costa makes the character playful, fun and strong, and this, as well as the fact that she does not speak German, leaving her out in the cold from her new friends, is enough for us to root for her. As Sonne, Frederick Lau is charming and sweet, and instantly seems to care for the young woman he has just met. As the film progresses and events get out of control, Lau is protective of his new friend, which endears him to the audience. The rest of the cast do well in smaller roles.
The story, written by Sebastian Schipper, Olivia Neergaard-Holm and Eike Frederik Schulz, was scripted at just 12 pages, with much of the dialogue improvised by the actors. There are times when the dialogue seems such, with the small talk between the characters often feeling insignificant in the first half of the film. This improvisation, however, also gives the relationship between the characters a feeling of reality, awkwardness and all.
Director Sebastian Schipper keeps the film moving at a steady pace; seemingly revelling in the first half of the film, which feels very true to the reality of a night out in Berlin, before taking things down a darker past when Victoria’s new friends reveal more about themselves and their plans for the night. Although the running time is 134 minutes, the film never feels drawn out; even the slower scenes are to be enjoyed, watching these new friends become closer, and enjoy one another’s company. The second half of the film changes direction totally – even modes of transport change from bikes to cars – and although it is clear that these characters deliberately find themselves in a dangerous situation, the performances are so rounded and strong that out sympathy always lies with this gang of twenty-something miscreants.
In all, ‘Victoria’ is a testament to the power of risk-taking in cinema. The characters are relatable and warm, the story takes several unexpected turns – even as the dialogue struggles from time to time – and the idea to shoot the film in one continuous take gives the feeling that we are seeing a snapshot in time, and lends weight to the events on screen. Truly remarkable.
RATING: 4.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Review by Brogen Hayes
  • filmbuff2011

    Cinema is at its best when it’s pushing the boundaries of the art form. The introduction of digital filmmaking opened up all kinds of new possibilities, including much longer takes than previously envisaged through traditional celluloid. Then came the one-take film – one obvious example being Russian Ark. Whereas that was more of a museum piece (literally), it never really convinced on a narrative level. The answer to that problem comes in the form of Victoria, a daring, inventive and stunning German film that was entirely shot in one take.

    The film starts on the strobe-lit face of Victoria (Laia Costa), a young Spanish woman working in Berlin. She’s in a nightclub at 4am, dancing away and enjoying the local nightlife. It’s here that she meets Sonne (Frederick Lau), a local guy who takes an instant liking to her. They hit it off straight away, chatting like they’ve known each other for years. She also meets his friends and the group hang out on a rooftop whispering to each other. Victoria eventually leaves to get some sleep, but soon finds herself drawn back to Sonne and his friends. Sonne is in a bit of a fix. One of his friends is desperate for money to pay back a criminal. Sonne convinces her to act as a getaway driver for an initially unspecified reason. As the night wears on and the first touches of dawn approach, Victoria and Sonne find themselves thrown together in a desperate run for their lives. This night will change her life…

    It took three attempts to shoot Victoria – the second entire take is the one that has been released. The initial thrill of seeing an entire film play out in near real time soon passes once you realise that the one-take scenario is not a gimmick to sell tickets. After about 20 minutes, the one-take aspect isn’t as important as the story which draws you in. For this is a film that is rooted in a thoroughly involving and evolving story. Think Before Sunrise meets Reservoir Dogs with a dash of Bonnie & Clyde thrown in for good measure. But Victoria is a true original that roots its audience to the spot throughout, even over a potentially risky running time of 138 minutes (just 13 minutes shy of Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice).

    Just think of all the potential problems that could happen – the cinematographer tripping up, actors flubbing their lines or not hitting their marks, the light not hitting the actors’ faces at key moments. It seems only fair that the first name to appear in the end credits is cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovlen, followed by director Sebastian Schipper. Grovlen keeps his camerawork energetic and alive, trying not to make it too obvious when he gets into the back seat of a car. It’s almost like there’s an invisible character here – the audience, who are taken along for the ride with Victoria and Sonne.

    Apparently the script for Victoria was just 12 pages long, so the end result has been largely improvised. Not that you would know it – so naturalistic and committed are the performances that they never feel amateurish. The superb Costa, playing a seemingly ordinary nice girl caught up in a dangerous situation, goes through quite a story arc here. By the end, you’ll be as moved as she is by what has transpired over the course of just a few hours. It’s to her and Lau’s credit that the relationship is credible and captures that mad feeling of instant attraction and not being able to get enough of each other.

    Whereas many films are over-edited to the point of exhaustion (e.g. the films of Michael Bay), there’s a startling simplicity to the one-take nature of Victoria. It transcends the idea of a one-take film and becomes a thrilling and occasionally moving film about the nature of fate, life choices and the power of love in the face of impending death. Schipper, along with his cinematographer and game cast have delivered an excellent film, mostly shot in English, which never lets up and allows you to vicariously live the experience with the characters, a la Strange Days. Simply outstanding. *****