Move over ‘Birdman’, there’s a new one-take wonder in town. Filmed in three tries on three different nights in Berlin (according to legend, the third was the charm, if you were wondering), Sebastian Schipper’s grand experiment ‘Victoria’ is first and foremost a technical marvel. The fact that it’s actually a pretty good movie as well is just icing on the cake.
Laia Costa stars as the Victoria from the title. A young Spanish girl living in Berlin, she opens the film lonely at a nightclub looking for new friends. As if on cue, those friends arrive in the form of a handful of drunken, rowdy Germans who get kicked out just as she’s leaving. The boys beg for her to hang out, and while she’s reluctant at first, she goes along. Sure, they’re wasted and have a love for petty crime, but they’re also a laugh. She even starts to fancy one named Sonne (Frederick Lau), and they have one of those long, lingering conversations from which lovers are born. As soon as those kids start to connect, one of Sonne’s buddies insists that he join him on a last minute job for an ex-convict to whom he owes a favour. Victoria agrees to tag along as a driver, and then the movie turns into a heist flick.
That’s right, Schipper didn’t just commit to turning a Linklater-esque chatty love story into a one-take film, he also transforms it into a suspenseful crime flick. That means that the ambitious movie features a robbery, chases, shoot-outs, and all the trappings of the genre. It’s remarkable that the production team were somehow able to pull it all off, and even more remarkable that they did so this well. Schipper cleverly plays with onscreen and off-screen action to keep things from getting too ambitious, but the movie still has SWAT teams, stunts, squibs and a variety of other elements that make it feel like even more of a miracle considering its experimental production model.
Yes, the story might seem a bit overly familiar and pat were it not shot with such stunning style, but that almost doesn’t matter given the nature of this extraordinary cinematic achievement. (The DP receives the first credit once the story wraps up, and deservedly so for amazing dance.) Costa and Lau are remarkable in the movie, not just as a charismatic couple with enough charm to carry the audience through the story’s most heightened chapters, but also running through the gamut of intense emotions when things go wrong.
The single-take technique also functions as more than just a selling point gimmick. In the first half, it heightens the naturalism of the improv-heavy love story, and in the second half it adds to the sweaty-palmed tension. Inevitably, some people will write off ‘Victoria’ as little more than a parlor trick, and they might even have a point. However, when that parlor trick is executed this impressively, it’s hard to complain – especially if you’re a cinephile (i.e. the target audience for a one-take German heist movie).