So for your first viewing, Alex, I have you watching the stupendously intense German thriller Victoria. Released last year, and by far my favourite film of that year, Victoria is a two-and-a-bit hour-long one-take, multi-hyphenate thrill ride. It is a filmmaking marvel in the same vein as Russian Ark and Rope. Director (Sebastian Schipper) and lead actress (Laia Costa) are two to keep an eye on fo sho.
The film spends a night in the life of a young Spanish woman living in Berlin, the titular Victoria (Costa). Victoria has only been in Berlin for three months when she’s roped into a tense and dangerously exciting night by the charming and seemingly safe Sonne (Frederick Lau) and his merry band of mischievous lads. Things escalate progressively from there and soon Victoria finds herself in over her head.
One of those rare ‘international’ films, it is largely spoken in English – due to the main character lacking a grasp of the German language – and possesses a universal story. However, Berlin is at the centre here; it really comes to life under late lamp-light and becomes a character in it’s own right.
I decided this would be the perfect first film for us to discuss because it’s one I can’t stop harking on about and perhaps it about time I get it out of my system. It’s also a film that is widely underseen, and that, for me, is a travesty.
So over to you Alex…
What a difference two-hours can make!
I will start by saying that when I first heard about the one-shot film that was ACTUALLY a one-shot film I wasn’t rushing to see it: A film that has a gimmick like this at the centre of it I am pessimistic about; shouldn’t the focus be on the meaning behind the film, the characters and the story, not the mechanics of making it? I approached Victoria, as I did when Eastenders used to do those one-off live shows: I hope someone messes up, or I see the camera etc, this soon faded.
I thought the titular character, played by Laia Costa was charming (if not the bearer of very poor decision making skills.) The film is at its best when she is working hard; a standout for me is the scene in the café with her and Sonne (Lau). Though by the end I began to question her character, why is she so attached to this guy? I don’t blame this on Costa, however, she is really, really good!
Though it was not distracting, my mind did keep jumping back to the original premise: This is supposed to be all shot in one shot, though I’ve heard varying stories of whether this is the case- This makes me think, could they have just scrapped that part of it altogether? However, the film is set at that early morning time as the sun is starting to come up which makes for some lovely use of natural lighting, it almost becomes a character in itself. Also, we spend two hours with these characters so we do really identify with them; could this have all been done with long takes that so many directors use successfully.
Do you think the one-take premise was completely necessary, and do you think they actually did it?
I came into this film off the back of Birdman – a film which uses editing-wizardry to give the impression of one continuous take. So when I heard about a little German film that dared to do it for real, I was all in. No the one-take is not necessary but unlike, say, a film like Russian Ark the one-take is seamless.
This isn’t the iMac G3, whereby the mechanics of the very product are exposed as some cheap marketing gimmick (soz Apple). The ‘gimmick’ here is something that propels the plot; it works with it to feed into the rush and danger of what we are seeing. The fact that we spend as much time with Sonne and his crew as Victoria does means that we are sharing this experience with her, completely aligned with her and engrossed in every emotion she feels in real time.
I’ve heard stories of the struggle director, Sebastian Schipper, had with the one-take – apparently it took him three attempts to achieve it, and mid-way through the film, after the gang have committed a heist, the cast yell at Victoria to turn the other way down a different road, which is reportedly not a part of the script but the actress actually turning down the wrong road and almost exposing the film crew. Now, I have no idea if these stories are true but I know one thing: I’m choosing to be blissfully ignorant because boy what a film!
Following the first full attempt, they took a 10-day break before doing it all over again. Two days later, they shot Victoria for a third and last time. The final take is the one used for the film (The Guardian, October 2015)
What was your physical reaction to this? I found myself sweating throughout; my heart wanted to escape through my throat. Also, and perhaps more importantly, what’s the re-watchability value on a film like this?
On a technical level I will have to bow to your greater judgement but I agree that we get to know the characters with Victoria: I at first felt cautious of this group of boys and I wondered why Victoria was so open with them, perhaps a bi-product of her sheltered lifestyle alluded to during the café scene I already mentioned.
Now, you mention this story you heard about the scene when they’re driving away, that makes sense and I think that these imperfections add to the confusion of the film, especially in a tense scene like that. I also liked it when Victoria is driving down into the gangsters underground lair or whatever; it’s as if she doesn’t know what she’s getting into and I did have a visceral response to that, knowing no quick editing was going to come to save me from the situation.
All in all, I feel the “gimmick,” as we’re calling it, was fairly successful if not slightly unnecessary. I felt the film started to drag a bit towards the end, which for me, means I would have to take a deep breath before watching it again any time soon. Do you think the 136 minute running time was justified?
Oh that underground parking garage scene had me chewing nails. I’m pretty sure I was just gnawing on skin by the end of it. I hear you on the end; the pace dropped significantly. But for me I was so invested, so emotionally entangled in the film that I had to know what happened to the characters, and that kept me going to the credits.
However, I agree that the runtime was excessive. Given the plot, it might benefit from a shorter run-time and would increase my desire to re watch it. This will most likely be a ‘revisit every couple of years’ kind of film for me.
Would you recommend it to a friend/girlfriend/mistress/that guy who always serves you at Tesco?
Right, I see this as an opportunity for duh duh duuuh “Alex’s final thought”: I’m glad I watched it, I thought the acting was great and some of the camera work was lovely as we swirled round Berlin with these characters (Cinematographer,Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, was awarded the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution for Cinematography at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival).
However, much like many nights in Berlin, perhaps it went on a bit too long. That being said, I would recommend it to a friend and calm any doubts about “the gimmick”.
7/10 | Alex 7.5/10 | Luke