“One city, one night, one take.” So reads the tagline, summing up perfectly the challenge undertaken by director Sebastian Schipper with Victoria, a two-hour and eighteen-minute-long movie shot in a single long take. No cuts, no CGI, no tricks. Just one shot, exactly like Russian Ark (2002) by Aleksandr Sokurov.
Once Francis Ford Coppola said: “Apocalypse Now is not about Vietnam, it is Vietnam.” Sebastian Schipper writes the same in the official movie press book. To him, Victoria is not a movie about a bank robbery, it is a bank robbery. And the viewer experiences it together with the main character (Laia Costa), whose name is Victoria, of course.
She is a young Spanish woman in Berlin who meets four local guys outside a nightclub. Sonne (Frederick Lau) and his friends promise to show her the real side of the city, and she joins them. But, as time rolls on, an unexpected bank robbery turns the carefree night into a nightmare out of control. This storyline recalls another German movie, Run Lola Run (1998), by Tom Tykwer.
One continuous take
As mentioned above, Victoria is just one unbroken shot. It was filmed with a handheld camera between 4:30 a.m. and 6:48 a.m. going through twenty-two locations in Kreuzberg and Mitte in Berlin. The first name in the credits, not by chance, is Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, the camera operator who won the Silver Bear for Best Cinematography at 65th Berlin International Film Festival.
There was no script, only a twelve-page plot outline containing scenes, locations, and general actions of the characters. The dialogue was improvised by the actors on set differently each time.
First, Sebastian Schipper shot the movie in ten-minute sequences on ten different nights to be sure to have the chance to edit a jump-cut version. After that, he had the budget to shoot the single long take only three times. And the third attempt – Sebastian Schipper’s favorite, became the final version (although Laia Costa has revealed she prefers the second one during an interview with AOL).
A countertrend artistic choice
In a historical period characterized by virtual reality devices and VFX (visual effects) aimed at making the visual experience more immersive, Victoria goes back to the origins of cinematic language, achieving the same results.
The choice to film in one long shot allows Sebastian Schipper to make the viewers live an experience as a witness to the story. In other words, from time to time, they choose what they want to watch, and just as it happens in real life, they are the editors of their own movies.
Sebastian Schipper makes the style a primary medium, a counterpart to the story in the diegetic process. Throughout the movie, the camera moves incessantly along with the characters, and suddenly, just like in an observational documentary, the mise en scène seems to disappear.
The soundtrack by Nils Frahm
The soundtrack by Nils Frahm enhances the visual experience. The German musician composes eight evocative tracks, which play in contrast with the realism of the images, giving the impression to the viewer to slow down time, as if the movie were in slow motion.
In conclusion, Victoria is a crime movie full of nuances. It is about love and death, freedom and sin. A long breathless run in the blink of an eye.