Directed by Sebastian Schipper
The long take is nothing new to cinema, but now far beyond the punctual formalism of Orson Welles and the wide gentleness of Kenji Mizoguchi, it has obtained nearly folkloric status.
It’s difficult to write about Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria without at least mentioning Rope and Russian Ark – two famous films that also attempt the one take trick for the duration of the film. At the very least, Alfred Hitchcock’s and Alexander Sokurov’s films present a blueprint. At the most, Schipper’s film takes the dramatic success of the former and combines it with the demanding set pieces and choreography of the latter.
Victoria (Laia Costa), a young Spanish woman visiting Berlin, meets Sonne (Frederick Lau) at a nightclub. Over the course of one night she meets his other friends, including Boxer (Franz Rogowski), and unexpectedly becomes their getaway driver in a dangerous heist.
While the long take is so often now a mark of bravado and nothing more, Victoria far exceeds that slightness. Schipper’s film isn’t simply visual exercise; the technique adds to the tension. For the first third of the movie, and once it becomes evident that there hasn’t been an edit, the tension is behind-the-scenes: how will Schipper and crew fluidly keep the real-time plot going without faltering and relying on cheap narrative tricks or sloppy blocking?
After that, and around the midpoint of the film where it switches quickly from a drama to a heist, the long take fades into the backdrop and the plot and dramatic relationships are foregrounded. That’s the real strength of Victoria. The film is more than two hours long and there isn’t a single edit. The long take must be ostentatious if for no other reason, by virtue of sheer duration. But that Schipper and cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grølen are able to make it effectively disappear is a testament to the script, performances, strong staging and in short, the varied cinematic elements.
Costa, for her part, is bound to be a star. She’s magnetic and expertly encompasses what Schipper really needs for the eponymous female to be believable: a simultaneous naiveté and portentous danger.
There are moments when Victoria seems to veer close to sloppiness. Why get dead drunk before a big robbery (two answers: narratively, because it allows Victoria to be a part of the plot; logically, because said robbery is unanticipated)? Why not ditch the guns right away? There are a lot of these “why nots,” but unlike hiccups in another film that might have to be explained away by suspension of disbelief, Victoria is about real characters whose youthful, split-second decision-making isn’t always looking ahead to the fictional suspense that will unfold before them. Essentially, they live in the moment, realistically.
Even when the formalism of Schipper’s film becomes afterthought it rears its head in impressive ways. Whether the deceptive simplicity of getting in and out of a car or walking up steps to a rooftop, or the inherent tension of an unseen ticking clock that real-time brings with it, Victoria is impressive filmmaking.