Victoria is assertive from the very first second, and its audaciousness is apparent to the very end; two hours and nineteen minutes in one take, taking us through twenty-two locations – from night clubs to roof tops – without a single cut. It is unequivocally impressive to pull off such a project, and with Victoria, actor-turned-director, Sebastian Schipper does indeed impress.
In the movies first moments, we are introduced to Victoria (Laia Costa) in a vibrant night club were the music and lights come together to form a pulsating moment of trance-dance-euphoria. It’s beautifully composed, and as Victoria moves from the dance floor to the vacant streets of Berlin, it sets the stage for the hours to come. The camera will follow Victoria and her new Berlin-native friends without hesitation, and as we experience the night with them, it is as if we become the final member of the slightly intoxicated company of five.
There’s a surplus of technical challenges accompanied by a two-hour-take, such as the question of composition, lighting and how to actually move the camera throughout the city – from the depths of an underground night club, to the very top of a high-rise roof top. I don’t know how, and I’m scared to find it out, but Schipper manages to do all this in an incredibly consistent manner. It’s no doubt thanks to hours upon hours of coordination and planning, but it’s not without a reason that Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s name is the first to appear in the credits. Grøvlen’s work behind the camera is extraordinary, not only for his technical- and coordinational-skills, but also because he manages to compose a really beautiful and human cinematic language throughout. He captures our main characters, and they city the roam around in, with a delicate touch. Grøvlen uses close-ups for all their worth, but at the same time, he knows when to pull away and let the camera be a passive observer, and these instances of interludes are always accompanied by a tender soundtrack.
Whereas most so-called one-take-movies are littered with cinematic trickery to hide cuts and edits to form an illusion of a continuous shot (Birdman, Rope, Silent House), Victoria is authentic, wholeheartedly dedicated to the aspired technique.
While long-takes, and especially one-takes, are inherently impressive by their very nature, they don’t always fit with the overall vision of the director – it has to compliment the movie in some way, or else it can feel meaningless and trivial; just a shallow pastiche of a former attempt. Victoria is far from meaningless, trivial or shallow, as the one-take does not only compliment the contemporary story, it enriches it (more on how later).
The same can be said about the aforementioned moments in the night club. It is a place of respite, a place where Victoria is transfixed and free – she goes to loud places // to search for someone // to be quiet with¹ – and as she and her someones continue throughout the night, the heavy beats and hard lights of the night club reaches out for them, but going back will never be the same. It is details like these – which will become much clearer and apparent when you watch the movie, as I’m intentionally vague to avoid spoilers – that elevate Victoria from a technical masterwork, to an emotional and personal journey.
As the runtime closes in on its end with a force majeure, Victoria opens up in a swell of emotions, and because you’ve (literally) been with her for the past two hours, this explosion feels raw and authentic, and resonates completely. Laia Costa is exhausted from her two-hour-extravaganza-performance, Victoria is exhausted from the intense night she’s experienced, and the viewer is exhausted because it’s mentally and emotionally challenging to witness these two hours. Thus this one scene becomes a momentary catharsis for everyone; alleviating stress, fear, exhaustion, sorrow and love. It is truly affecting to see such a technically complex work strive to be more, especially when it succeeds.
¹This is in association to Jamie xx’s Loud Places