Move over Birdman (or fly over perhaps) – one-take films have a new magnum opus to aspire to. Sebastian Shipper’s heart-poundingly exhilarating Victoria is a single-shot sensation, free from the conceit of digital splicing as the camera rolls non-stop for 150 minutes. Following a group of manic millennials getting into all sorts of bother in early morning Berlin, the film is an absolute triumph of storytelling, relentless in its gripping tension and pathos.
We focus on the titular Victoria, a young musician from Madrid who has moved to Berlin after failing to make it as a pianist. She works in a café, is paid a pittance and has made no friends since her arrival in the city 3 months previously. On a night of solo-clubbing amidst a swirl of fog and strobe lights, she runs into four likely lads – Sonne, a gregarious and flirty type, Fuss and Blinker, two idle drunks, and Boxer, a skin-headed ex-con with a violent temperament. Attempting to woo her as she makes her way home, they finally convince her to go back to their place – supposedly – for a few extra drinks and a rare night of company.
After some stolen beers and coquettish banter, Victoria and the group’s larks come to an apparent conclusion. Here the film takes a turn from youthful whimsy to full-blown thriller; Boxer must repay his debts for the protection he received in prison, by way of carrying out a €50,000 bank heist, for which they need Victoria’s help. She innocently agrees to take the role of the getaway driver, plunging the film into its final 90 minutes of rip-roaring shootouts, palpable pressure and an unthinkably, albeit plausibly, nightmarish situation.
It would be easy to say that the film’s brilliance relies heavily on the central one-shot gimmick. Indeed, Shipper himself said that a jump cut version was made, in case of reduced funding due to the unpredictability of a single-shot format, but described it as simply, “not good.” Be that as it may, it’s not a gimmick to take likely. From its opening scenes of strobe-lit clubbing to its jaw dropping final chapter, there are few films that can boast such an authentically engaging experience. The film’s finely detailed level of direction is accomplished and astounding, so much so that it only took 3 attempts to get the whole thing right.
The film would be nothing, however, without its unanimously great performances. Laia Costa (Victoria) has a superb range, lashing back and forth from cocaine-addled madness to intense grief, so as to give the viewer a sort of dumbstruck whiplash. Frederick Lau (Sonne) is equally brilliant, channelling the simultaneously gritty and charming nature of his character. Working with nothing but a skeletal 12-page script, the cast masterfully and believably riff and natter, forcing you to believe in this inherently spectacular situation.
Brutish and brilliant, the film flies by at breakneck speed. As the mania of the film begins to unfurl in real time, all the audience can do is watch in amazement, marvelling at both of the horrifying onscreen scenario and the sheer mastery of this cinematic achievement.
Words by George Washbourn