Alfred Hitchcock was the first movie director to try to do a full-length feature in a single take, with his 1948 film Rope, which appeared to use only camera movement without cuts. Because of film’s technical limitations, he had to disguise the cuts, in a similar strategy to that used just last year by Alejandro Iñaritu in the Oscar-winning Birdman. Of course, when digital video came along, it then became possible to do this without any cuts at all, and the first director to achieve this was Alexander Sokurov in 2002 with Russian Ark. That was great, but it wasn’t really a story film—more like a kind of spectacle. Now, there’s a new movie by a German director, Sebastian Schipp, that’s the real deal—a full-length story with characters and plot that moves through over twenty locations on the streets of Berlin in one incredible take—it’s called Victoria.
The title character, played by Spanish actress Laia Costa, is a young foreign student from Madrid, living in Berlin for a few months and getting by with a part-time job at a coffee shop. The film opens with her dancing to some throbbing techno music at a club. Then as she leaves the club she runs into an overly friendly young guy named Sonne, played by Frederick Lau, partying on the streets with three of his friends. It’s about 4:30 in the morning. He persuades Victoria to come along with them for awhile, and they hang out together and go up on a roof where they drink and chat. Victoria knows very little German, and they don’t know any Spanish, so most of the time they talk in broken English.
From the beginning, you may feel a sense of foreboding, because this is one rather small young woman with four big guys she doesn’t know, alone at night in a big city, and the film definitely plays off this feeling of anxiety. However, they turn out to be nice guys. But after a patient, brilliantly executed build-up, a series of very bad decisions by the characters heightens the film’s tension. More I won’t tell you, except to say that in the film’s two hour and fifteen minute running time, Victoria has an experience she will never forget.
The film’s technical accomplishment is more than just a gimmick, because having the action take place in real time, without ever breaking away, creates an intimacy with the characters that you could never achieve otherwise. None of it would work without perfect planning, and more importantly, good acting, and here a cast of virtual unknowns just nails it, with the standout being Laia Costa playing a point-of-view character with an intensity and range that is truly a marvel. The picture is so involving that I often stopped noticing the no-cut style—I simply accepted it as the way to tell this story.
The single tracking shot form does impose limitations. In this case, it results in a plot point very late in the film that strains credibility, but not that much more than your typical thriller. The film is an emotionally exhausting experience, and looking back I’m very impressed by the ingenuity of the director, Schipp, his lead actress, and really everyone involved in this amazing movie. Victoria is one of the most exciting films of the year.