The best kind of film-makers are magicians; directors who dream the impossible and project those impossibilities on to the big screen. Sebastian Schipper, a German actor-turned-director, proves he is one of these film-makers with his latest effort, Victoria. It’s an ambitious piece of work which tells its story in real-time, with the events of the film taking place in one long continuous take.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. The long take is a thing of the past already, right? It’s a technique which can be dated all the way back to the 1940s and 50s, with genius directors such as Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles using long takes in films such as Rope and Touch of Evil. More recently, advances in digital technology have allowed people such as the two-time Oscar-winner, Alejandro G. Inarritu, to push the boundaries of cinema even further – both The Revenant and, to a much larger extent, Birdman, use the technique to great effect – so you’d be correct in thinking that the long take isn’t a new cinematic concept in the slightest.
Where Victoria differs from anything that has come before it, however, is that there is no post-production trickery at play here. Whereas previous films have cleverly used editing to create the illusion of an uninterrupted event taking place in front of you, a huge amount of meticulous planning and staging allowed Schipper to shoot his film from beginning to end without any breaks, only yelling cut once the story had come to its conclusion.
It’s a feat that only sounds truly impressive when you describe the film’s story itself, but I won’t be going into too much detail for the sake of a purer viewing experience. I can tell you that it opens to the strobe lights and smoke of an underground nightclub in Berlin, with the film’s titular character alone and lost in the music. Her character is beautifully set up almost immediately when her offer to buy the bartender a drink falls on deaf ears: Victoria is quite clearly lonely, which explains her decision to begin hanging around with a group of men who offer to show her the ‘real Berlin’.
What unfolds over the following two-hours is something I won’t spoil for you here. It’s spoiling nothing though when I tell you that what begins in an underground nightclub continues across the streets of Berlin, to the very top of a building and back down again, through some more streets, multiple cars, an underground garage, a bank, an underground nightclub (again), and an apartment building complex. When you take the breadth of these locations into consideration, each of which presents filming difficulties as simple as stairs or a car door, the bold idea to shoot such a thing in one go seems outrageous. Yet, Schipper achieves this apparent impossibility with a masterful touch, aided largely by his camera operator who takes a credit before the director in the closing titles.
What’s wonderful about the way in which the effect is used in the film, is that you completely forget about it. The film sucks you in, making you believe that what you are seeing unfold on-screen is actually happening which makes Victoria a truly visceral experience. In fact, where it not for the occasional piece of orchestarted music, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the film was a documentary of some kind.
Set in the early hours of the morning, during that strange period of time between the end of a night out and the start of a new day, it has a dream-like quality to it which is only enhanced as the story twists and escalates to its crime-tinged conclusion. What I really liked about the film is how it manages to capture that sense of impulse that you can get on a night out, how relationships can be heightened in such situations, and how it depicts the effects of such compulsions.
Whilst the techinal prowess that went into putting this film together deserves such high praise, so do the performances from its central cast. The sense of realism that the long-take-technique affords the film is only heightened by the cast, who largely improvised their dialouge. The central turn from Spanish actress Laia Costa is a particular highlight, one filled with fragillity and mystery.
You may think that you’ve seen films like Victoria before, but that isn’t the case. It’s a brilliant and pure technical achievement, but more than that, it’s a unique character study which slowly turns into a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat experience. Films like these, ones which are made by magicians, are why cinema exists in the first place.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com