A two hour and twenty minute continuous shot, Sebastian Schipper’s real time heist film is a swaggering, technically impressive behemoth of a film. And while the one take may normally be a shortcut to cheap applause from cinephiles and practitioners, Victoria is something more. There is no gimmickry to its form. Instead it is pure, unfettered cinematic perfection.
What strikes most about Victoria is its absoloute dedication to its form. Whereas Inarritu’s Birdman tagged on the technique of a one shot to stylishly merge the gap between scenes, Schipper’s creation feels like it is the only way it could have been made. A seamless series of events, the characters dart through the night with a sense of spontaneity, the tension and speed of the film carrying you along at a fantastic, bewildering pace. Much like Run Lola Run a film in which Schipper acted, it thumps along, laced with violence and a touch of the obscene.
At the centre of it is the titular character. Played by the incredibly believable Lei Costa, Victoria is as displaced as we are. A Spanish girl alone in Berlin, she is an anomaly. The film opens with her, isolated yet comfortable, as she dances to the strobe lights and pounding techno music of an underground nightclub. Exiting the nightclub is where the story really starts though. Meeting a group of Berliners led by Sonne (Frederick Lau), she is thrust into a friendship with strangers that leads further than she would have hoped. As the hours progress, she finds herself coerced into helping with a high stakes bank robbery.
The story itself sounds utterly implausible at first. A girl who within two hours becomes involved in a heist? Yet, the strange and beautiful thing about it is that it feels completely the opposite. The situation feels real and plausible. Victoria herself has a disturbing underlying taste for excitement and the unpredictable, justifying her unusual entry into this world. That she takes the leap from Madrid to living and working in a café in Berlin expresses early on that she is missing something from her life. What’s more, the characters with whom she becomes entwined are utterly believable. Unlike the bank robbers of films like Michael Mann’s Heat (1995), they are not professionals but scared young men who have found themselves wrapped up in something they shouldn’t be. You sympathise with them. The one shot allows you to immerse yourself in their characters, their desires and their flaws, bringing the conclusion that they are not heartless robbers looking for quick monetary gain but troubled and cornered survivalists.
Victoria is a glimmering technical achievement first and foremost. Yet behind the one shot conceit is something of deep artistic value. Indeed, what the technique allows for is a plot that progresses beautifully, characters that become known intimately and action that is immersive and thrilling. With the beat and pace of German techno music, this is cinema that captivates from the first second to the last.