Victoria is an extraordinary accomplishment which only becomes more extraordinary with time to settle. Shot in a single shot between 4.30am and 7am one morning in Berlin, director Sebastian Schipper makes a crazily ambitious sprawling, location-hopping crime romance. All in one shot, Victoria expands and sprawls around hundreds of Berlin’s nooks and crannies, driving and walking and running between cafes and clubs and underground car parks. It’s no surprise Schipper forgoes the film’s first credit to his camera operator/cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, whose heroic energy gives the film its kinetic dynamite.
One of the most exciting things about Victoria is the way that it keeps you guessing in terms of genre and where it’s heading. Laia Costa plays Victoria, a Spaniard who has been living in Berlin for 3 months working in a cafe for a pittance. She’s lonely, a bit lost in life and goes clubbing on her own, which is how she bumps into a group of men at the exit. She naively decides to tag along for an early morning walk. Immediately, you see it going one way before it turns another, taking cues from the romantic dynamic in Richard Linklater’s Before films, before dark and heart-pounding twists begin to creep back into the picture.
Besides a twelve page outline, the film is almost entirely improvised. And because the character of Victoria hardly speaks any German, she converses with the other characters in English, despite it not being the first language of any of the characters nor actors. This creates a wonderful, naturalistic dynamic which helps smooth out all the creases and imperfections that inevitably seep into an improvised single shot film. Whilst still fluent and easy to follow, people who speak English as a second language can stumble a little so whenever there’s a small imperfection, it makes perfect sense. It all feels rich and genuine and you begin to forget to look for “mistakes”.
The main criticism that could be levelled at Victoria is whether the single shot is just a gimmick. Objectively, it’s technically extraordinary, but the single shot structure provides some meaning behind the impulsive, aimless and vulnerable main character, even if some of Victoria’s audacious decisions aren’t always given much rationale. The film goes on for a little too long and it could have foregone the final act.
In a way, it’s remarkable the way that this film just keeps going, a unique urban odyssey taking place in a very specific place in time. A technical and emotional revelation.
Review by David Rank
Victoria is out now in the UK. Certificate 15 (UK). Running time 138 mins.