Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman wasn’t filmed in a single take, although the Oscar-winning cinematography and slick editing certainly created that illusion. Victoria, on the other hand, goes all out with a continuous shot from start to finish. Of course this isn’t the first feature film to be executed in one long take. Russian Ark in 2002 previously took on this difficult endeavor. Classic movies like Goodfellas, The Shining, and Rope all have extraordinary non-interrupted takes in them too. We’ve also recently seen long shots experimented with in TV shows like True Detective and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
While continuous shots have been done before and they’re starting to become a gimmick, it’s hard to deny that Victoria is an ambitious film nonetheless. Does an ambitious movie necessarily equal a good movie, though? Not really. Victoria is a style over substance piece that wouldn’t have much going for it without its bold style. At the very least, however, the filmmakers deserve an A for effort.
Laia Costa plays the title character, a young Spanish woman who recently moved to Berlin. Looking for a good time, Victoria meets four guys at a club one night. They’re lead by a charming fellow named Sonne, played by Frederick Lau. After a night of drinking, partying, and smoking, the guys let Victoria in on their plan to rob a bank in order to pay off a debt. Surprisingly, Victoria decides that she wants to help out and volunteers to be their getaway driver. As you might expect, things don’t exactly go according to plan as the night turns into Spring Breakers meets Reservoir Dogs.
The actors all deserve praise for their committed, convincing performances, particularly Costa as Victoria. As if doing a whole movie in a single long take weren’t already daunting enough, the actors also had to improvise a majority of their dialog. While the 12-page script didn’t give them much to work with, everybody feels 100% natural in their roles. They also never appear aware of cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, who deservingly took home the Berlin International Film Festival’s Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution for Cinematography.
There’s obviously a ton to admire in Victoria. If the filmmakers had aimed to shoot everything within 90 minutes, it could’ve been a nonstop adrenaline rush. However, director Sebastian Schipper instead lets too many scenes drag on forever. Some may argue that this makes the film more realistic and helps to integrate the audience into the action. For many audiences, though, the slower moments are really going to test their patience and take them out of the action. With a final running time of 138 minutes, it’s kind of ironic that this one-shot feature film could’ve used more editing.