‘Victoria’ Review: A Stunning Stunt

'Victoria'

Movie Rating:

3.5

An impressive production gimmick that also happens to work well as a movie, ‘Victoria’ earned plenty of attention (and awards) riding across the film festival circuit. A heist thriller executed in real time as a single take, it will perhaps leave you enthralled by the craft and the logistics of what the production team pulled off a little more than the actual content itself, but it’s still an entertaining bit of storytelling.

Laia Costa stars as the titular Victoria, a young Spanish woman living in Berlin looking for friends and/or excitement. The tale opens to strobe lights in a dance club as Victoria bounces around searching for someone to connect with. She stumbles into the charming Sonne (Frederick Lau), who’s getting up to trouble in the wee hours of the morning with his low level criminal friends. They steal some beer from a store, break into a building for a rooftop bonding session, and eventually end up at the coffee shop where Victoria works for a little heart-to-heart. Then Sonne’s friends barge in and start ranting about a job they have to do. Short one body for the task, Victoria reluctantly tags along and soon finds herself in an underground parking lot where gangsters bark out instructions about a heist that must be pulled off. As you might imagine, things don’t exactly go as planned.

Shot between 4 AM and 7 AM on the streets of Berlin, ‘Victoria’ is above all else a remarkable technical accomplishment. Though an editor gets a mysteriously prominent credit at the end, the movie was allegedly shot in real time over the course of three consecutive nights, with the third take being the charm that now graces cinema screens worldwide. Actor-turned-director Sebastian Schipper wrote only a 12-page outline for the project, allowing his cast to improvise the rest, and found a nice and natural rhythm with his team. Cinematographer Sturia Brandth Grovlen gets a deserved first credit at the end for his remarkable dance around the performers, which nimbly jumps from observational photography to more choreographed suspense and action scenes with ease. It’s impossible not to be impressed by the trick the team pulled off, even if ‘Victoria’ is never quite as satisfying dramatically as it is stylistically.

The first half of the movie plays like an almost Linklater-esque tale of walking, rambling romance between Victoria and Sonne. The pair have charm and chemistry to spare, and are a delight to watch during their flirtatious dance. As the film wears on and the genre shifts, the focus dials in more on Victoria, who carries the movie on her shoulders admirably. Schipper’s tale is one of peer pressure and bad luck that thankfully never stretches too far into genre cliché to lose the carefully constructed naturalism of the first half.

Costa is absolutely remarkable throughout, running through a gamut of emotions in real time without missing a beat or pushing too far over the line. She’s clearly a major talent who will likely have the richest future of anyone involved in the project.

The fact that this one-take wonder almost stretches out to 140 minutes makes the feat all the more impressive, but the movie undeniably drags and sags and some points. It’s kind of a shame in a way, because the movie (like all thrillers) could certainly benefit from a little editorial tightening. Obviously, that wasn’t an option without losing the film’s major selling point. So, despite the fact that the film is well performed and exquisitely executed, it never quite manages to elevate above its central gimmick. You’ll see ‘Victoria’ because it’s executed in one take and primarily be impressed by that accomplishment. However, no one will ever say, “You should see this movie, it’s fantastic… Oh, and I almost forgot, it’s also shot in a single take.” Still, when the dominating gimmick is executed this well, it’s hard to complain too much.

2 comments

  1. Bolo

    They’ve done a couple movies all in one take now, haven’t they? I think ‘Russian Ark’ and ‘Timecode’ were both real single take movies. When I say “real single take movies”, I mean as opposed to films in which the edits are done in a discreet way to make it seem like one take. For example ‘Rope’, and I haven’t seen ‘Birdman’, but I think it was the same.

    Anyway, if they really want to stand out from the pack, they’ll have to do a movie with eight split screens in one take, all shot in Disney World without Disney’s permission. Herzog could probably pull that one off without breaking a sweat.

  2. CC

    I doubt this will trump RUSSIAN ARK. Especially because, despite the gimmick of one take, RUSSIAN ARK is a fabulous story. I tire of these gimmicks to get a movie seen though.
    If the story suffers AT ALL, the gimmick has failed the movie as a whole. People go to see stories, and not to be impressed by the filmmakers themselves. It almost makes it a very narcissistic “look at me” endevour.

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