You have to feel for German director Sebastian Schipper. Having pulled off the mind-boggling feat of shooting his latest Victoria in one continuous, real-time, 138-minute take, the heist drama’s release was greeted with a wave of skepticism. Rather than marvelling at the astounding technical precision on show, the film’s every frame was scrutinised for proof of CGI trickery or slight-of-hand. Nobody believed such a thing was possible. But they were all wrong: Victoria is the real deal.
Not that such masterful craftsmanship should forgive the film’s flaws, of which there are more than a few – including baffling plot developments and a clutch of characters you’ll struggle to warm towards – but nor should those flaws detract from this shinning example of high-octane filmmaking at its purest.
Our anchor amid all the camera-swinging chaos is Laia Costa’s Victoria, a young Spanish woman who escapes a professional disaster back home and arrives in Berlin alone, unencumbered and ready for an adventure. Costa is superb as the enigmatic Victoria, evoking a searing intensity which reveals the pain, shame and explosive rage caused by her abandoned vocation.
After a night of dancing like nobody is watching, Victoria allows herself to be chatted up by an obvious scoundrel named Sonne (Frederick Lau) who convinces her to hang out with his mates Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit) and Fuss (Max Mauff) as they clown around on the deserted streets. But as the night wears on it is revealed that Boxer has spent time in prison and now his protector wants him to repay the favour by doing a ‘job’. Despite the obvious dangers involved, Victoria agrees to act as the gang’s new getaway driver.
Truthfully, everything up to this point is attention-straining, energy-sapping stuff with the improvised ‘scenes’ stretching out far longer than necessary with little in the way of incident to keep you hooked. The trouble with filming in one unedited take is that it deprives the director of the chance to trim the fat around the story and Victoria’s narrative is seriously flabby.
It’s only when Victoria and her new friends are lured into a gangster’s underground lair and forced to commit the robbery that the full power of the single take is really felt. Both the build up and the aftermath to the heist are palpitatingly tense, the unflinching camera dragging us along in what feels like an unstoppable rush of adrenalin. The single shot perfectly capturing the fear and exhaustion of making a rash decision and then having to live with the consequences in a breathless, bewildering fashion.
Runtime: 138 mins; Genre: Heist/Drama; Released: 1 April 2016;
Director: Sebastian Schipper; Writers: Sebastian Schipper, Olivia Neergaard Holm, Eike Schulz;
Cast: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit