Victoria (MA15+) Limited release from Thursday
Every artist likes to experiment at some time or another. Alfred Hitchcock was perhaps the most celebrated director who became famous for his attempts to bring something new, different and risky to conventional cinema, whether making a film set in a lifeboat ( Lifeboat) or embracing 1950s 3-D ( Dial M for Murder).
In 1948, he filmed the Patrick Hamilton play Rope in a series of 10-minute takes, 10 minutes being the maximum amount of film that could be loaded into a camera at the time. To make it seem as though the entire film was shot without a cut, he disguised the edits by — among other effects — moving the camera into dark places where the essential cut would be unobtrusive.
His technique was much discussed and admired, though it can be argued that creative editing can add to the suspense of a film. More recently, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Oscar-winning Birdman used a similar technique.
It’s far more radical, though, to actually shoot a film in one single take, and now that cinema employs digital recording rather than film this is possible, provided the action has been carefully rehearsed.
In 2002, Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov shot the 95-minute Russian Ark as one continuous Steadicam take through St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum. Eleven years later, Iranian director Shahram Mokri upped the ante with Fish & Cat, a 133-minute drama shot in one take on a lakeside location, where serial killers prey on unsuspecting campers. This film was pretty much unseen outside the festival circuit, but now the latest one-take wonder, German director Sebastian Schipper’s 139-minute Victoria, is getting a limited release on Australian cinema screens.
On a technical level, few would refute the fact that Schipper and his Danish cinematographer, Sturla Brandth Grovlen, have pulled off a remarkable feat. This sort of adventurous filmmaking must be hard on the actors, too. What happens if, two hours in, you miss your mark? (The film’s dialogue was improvised, so actors flubbing lines weren’t a major issue.)
From the opening shot, in a nightclub filled with people and illuminated by strobe lighting, to the ironic final image, Grovlen’s dazzling achievement is reason alone to see the film.
Detractors, with some justification, could accuse the film of being little more than a lavish stunt — but it’s a pretty damned impressive one.
For a concept such as this, the plot has to offer plenty of action and movement, and Schipper and his credited co-writers, Olivia Neergaard-Holm and Eike Frederik Schulz, have come up with a ripping yarn about a girl, a boy and a robbery. Nothing new here, yet somehow the filmmakers imbue the familiar plot mechanics with a welcome freshness.
The eponymous Victoria, played by Laia Costa, is a young woman in her 20s. She has taken time away from her home in Madrid and is on a three-month working holiday in Berlin, working the breakfast shift as a waitress in a cafe in the city’s Mitte district, but not allowing her early starting time to deter her from enjoying a rave at 4am in a club, which is where the film’s opening scene takes place.
As she leaves the club to have a brief sleep before starting work, she meets Sonne (Frederick Lau), a practised flirt and serious charmer, who invites her to join him and his three not-socharming friends, including ex-convict Boxer (Franz Rogowski). During this interlude, Victoria impresses the Germans by demonstrating her prowess as a pianist and reveals that she was a music student in Spain.
Although at this point we know little about Victoria, it seems certain she has few, if any, friends in Berlin. Otherwise, why would she be so easily convinced to hang out with Sonne and his friends in the early hours of the morning, especially when they propose going back to the apartment where they live for a few more drinks?
At this point the detached viewer may well wonder why a seemingly sensible young woman would take the risk of accompanying four complete strangers to the place they claim is their apartment in the middle of the night. One of the problems of Victoria is that the film requires rather large leaps of faith such as this. But, of course, if Victoria didn’t go along with the guys then the film would end abruptly as a bit of a fizzer.
This isn’t the only improbable decision on Victoria’s part. Apparently attracted to Sonne, she agrees replace the quartet’s designated driver and get behind the wheel of a car that, it’s clear, has been stolen. This is (as The Goons used to say) where the story really starts, as the narrative encompasses a bank robbery, a seriously dangerous gangster (Andre Hennicke) and a suspenseful rendezvous in a deserted parking station.
Improbable as the plot may become, few at this stage of the proceedings will worry too much — they should be having too good a time admiring the fluid skill of the camera work and the ebbs and flows of the plot. In this respect, Victoria can be compared favourably to a successful German film of a few years back, Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run, with which it has some basic similarities.
Costa is an agreeable if extremely ingenuous heroine and the rest of the cast play their stock characters with efficiency. As a bonus, there’s a driving music score by Nils Frahm that helps paper over some of the film’s dodgier moments.
CAN BE COMPARED FAVOURABLY TO TOM TYKWER’S