The one-shot feature has yet to work its way into the cinematic landscape in the same ubiquitous way that the found footage conceit once did. But even if it grows into a popular storytelling tool, it’s doubtful we’ll see as stunning an achievement as what director Sebastian Schipper and his creative team have pulled off with Victoria. Remarkably, the film doesn’t have any magic masking cuts in the whole of its ambitious 138 minute running time. It exists as an entirely immersive and immediate experience without once drawing attention to the framing device.
That compulsion to search for the edit seams in the similarity-styled Birdman is absent here as what you’re presented with is a completely organic and pure use of this narrative constraint, minus any visual cheats or egregious leaps in time. Carrying the film in a way seldom actors are asked to (she’s literally in every shot for the whole duration) Laia Costa is the titular, pixie-like waif from Spain who has recently moved to Berlin, seemingly without anything in the way of any plan or strategy. Alone in a country where she doesn’t speak the language, she meets a boisterous group of young men upon exiting a club in the wee small hours of the morning. Tempted to stick around by one of the pack (Frederick Lau), whom immediately takes a shine to her, she ambles around with them, drinking beers they steal from an off-licence and sharing a spliff on a private rooftop they sneak on to.
It transpires that the revellers are about to embark on a robbery to pay back a prison protection debt. With their getaway driver too blitzed to drive, Victoria is more than happy to offers her services and tags along. There’s zero whiff of any gimmick during the heroine’s journey, and it’s apparent as the end credits roll just how skilfully Victoria plays with the notion of temporal awareness in cinema – not just within the boundaries of the film itself, but also in the passive world of the viewer. There’s a creeping giddiness when you realise that everything which has occurred on screen has happened during the relatively short period you’re been sat in that darkened room. But the film’s success hinges on every component gelling, and this is something Schipper hasn’t lost sight of. Having begun his career in front of the camera, it’s clear the director knows how to get the best out of his performers, despite the very unusual and fragmented style in which they’re asked to perform.
Schipper captures perfectly (with the help of Nils Frahm’s elegiac score) the beguiling quality of a post-clubbing cityscape before sunrise ushers in a new day. Ineligible for this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film owing to the amount of English spoken throughout (it’s the only means of communication between the two lead characters), this is an irksome oversight as Victoria deserves that kind of recognition, not least for the technical and choreographed marvel it is, but also for advancing cinema without the reliance of any digitally- enhanced bells and whistles. Offering little respite for the viewer (even when the actions flags, the committed performances shine), it’s a dynamic and astounding piece of charged vérité which continues to grip and convince until the final uninterrupted frame.
Adam Lowes | @adlow76