By Bridie Rollins
Sebastien Schipper’s fourth feature length film, Victoria, might appear on paper as a slightly self-conscious creative experiment. However by some ingenious mergence of form and content it is transformed on screen into an exhilarating and immersive piece of cinema.
Unusually it is not the director, however, who features as the primary name on the closing credits. Instead it is Cinematographer, Strula Brandth Grovlen. This is because Victoria is shot in one continuous, uninterrupted take of 138 minutes. In other words Grovlen provides the single lens through which we follow Victoria’s 4.00am exploits across Berlin. The cinematographer is required to be in the exact position with the correct framing and focus at every single moment of the action (needless to say whilst lugging around a camera).
The concept of the single shot is one that has been adopted in a surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) few number of films. People may be familiar with it being used in the critically acclaimed Birdman (2014), where it was applied for the effect rather than the process. Along side this there is Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), where he attempted to create a cinematic equivalent of a piece of theatre. This touches upon an interesting element of the single shoot. Whilst technically it may be an impressive feat, it is both the challenges and possibilities it presents to the actor that is the make or break.
Frequently the technique has been criticised for taking the focus away from the content. In Rope many argued that it functions as a gimmick, drawing undue attention to its own virtuosity. Victoria, on the other hand, feels anything but gimmicky. There is a simplicity and spontaneity about it that deepens our investment in the characters and ultimately draws us in for the thrilling and haunting climax.
Of course its achievements are largely down to the two outstanding lead performances by Laia Costa and Frederick Lau. The largely improvised scenes of them scrambling across city rooftops and playing piano in a cafe, whilst negotiating the intricacies of the first stages of mutual attraction, could stand alone as a piece of cinematic brilliance. Whilst the second half of the film changes distinctly in tone and pace, it is with equal skill that the audience are taken into a world of gangsters, hijackings and shoot outs.
The striking soundtrack also deserves a mention. The scenes in the club provide welcome moments of elation as the music viscerally transports us into the next chapter of night. Rather than individual technical achievements however, the triumph of the piece is its ability to bring these elements together and create a rather unique and daring piece of film.