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Monday, September 5, 2016

Victoria: A review

With films that are shot in one take the majority of focus tends to be on this fact and the difficulty of achieving such a feat. This is understandable as the difficulty of achieving this has made the production of any one-shot film an impossibility till the fairly recent past and the development of digital movie cameras. In 2002, critically acclaimed releases such as Russian Ark and Irreversible were released and while there was sufficient regard for the technical aspect of the films being shot in one-take it was only until Birdman (edited to seem as one take, not actually one take) in 2014 that it could really be said the one-shot entered the realm of regular film criticism.

The posters and trailer for Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria regularly reference the fact that this film was shot in one take. It remains an impressive feat even if they do tell us a lot. Filmed in a couple of hours in the Kreuzberg and Mitte neighbourhoods of Berlin during the early hours of the morning, the director needed only 3 takes to complete the film. Combined with the fact that the script is a bare 12 pages and most of the dialogue is improvised, it is an impressive feat.

The film is not all about the technical effects as there’s more to a film that just quality camerawork. In fact, despite all the hype about the camerawork in the advertising the film itself does not flaunt this technical mastery, leaving lots of time to focus on the story.  Led by stellar performances from Laia Costa and Federick Lau, who progress deeper in character as the film progresses, from fun and sweet into roles with markedly darker and determined aspects.

The premise of the film seems very simple and the opening shots of Victoria dancing in a club and then chatting with a group of guys after exiting seems like we’re being set up for something along the lines of a mumblecore indie romance or a Linklater Euro talkie. It certainly seems that way from the dialogue at the piano between Costa and Lau when they leave the group and are alone at the café Victoria works at. The film does an excellent job of bringing the action to another level from the point where we think it’s done.  Only after Lau’s Sonne leaves the café and we think the film is winding down does the director immediately send us into an unexpected heist film, filled with action, drama and bad decisions.

Transitioning swiftly into a film about a bank robbery and getaway, the tension is ramped up into an intense sequence of the setup of the robbery followed by a surprisingly smooth actual stickup.  Just when it seems we’ve gotten the happy climax via a wholly crazy night out, the director again ramps up the action and we’re given another action sequence with police shootouts and chases between (and into) Berlin apartment complexes.

 It’s hard to write much more without giving away too much but the film manages to stride between the indie beginning and the criminal heist ending successfully. It is a film that could be said to successfully transition between the two genres and should appeal to fans of either. Hopefully it could even be the start of further mixes of these genres.

The film packs a lot into the two hours it runs for. By the end when we see Victoria at the climax of the film it’s as if she’s lived years in those hours. That we get this feeling is due to success of Schipper’s ability to convey a frantic and engrossing film. There may be a sense of improbability at one or two aspects of the film (would the heist really be that smooth when done by drunken criminals with no experience?) but the film more than makes up for these rare moments of disbelief. 

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