Film nerds rejoice any time a long, complicated scene doesn’t cut away, but is completed in a single take. Even uncomplicated scenes, as long as the film keeps rolling, can elicit feelings of awe and admiration. And then there are, of course, entire films that are shot this way. Though incredibly rare, you may recall titles like Russian Ark that dazzled cinema-goers with this complicated feat. On the flip side, a film marketed as a single-shot film runs the risk of being perceived as a gimmick. Silent House anyone? With all this in mind, let’s consider the recently released German film, Victoria. Running an astonishing two hours and twenty minutes, this film wasn’t just edited to seem like a single take (like Birdman was), it is composed of a single shot, crossing 22 locations, in real time as morning breaks in Berlin.
Victoria is a heist film.. It follows a young Spanish woman from Madrid who has been working in Berlin at a café for three months. She befriends a rowdy group of petty criminals that she meets in the very early hours of the morning in an underground club (literally, underground, not just a cool place). The four men and their new friend steal some beers from a sleeping grocer and sneak onto the roof of an apartment building to enjoy the the remaining time left in the night. As the group becomes acquainted, a talented Sebastian Schipper elevates the film from “just a heist film” into competent drama to be taken serious.
As the night seems to be ending for everyone, one of the four–the skinhead who’s done time–receives a call from a gangster that provided him protection while he was in prison demanding he carry out a bank heist this very morning as return payment. The crew is short a getaway driver, and although Victoria doesn’t know exactly what she is getting into (everyone is speaking broken English to her, and German–which she doesn’t speak–to each other), she knows that she’s asking for trouble.
Ultimately, the heist goes bad, and things goes from tense, to anxious, to panicked.
Not once does the single-shot feel like a gimmick. It feels extremely natural, the camera getting into cabs with the group, climbs ladders, gets into crowded elevators, follows the faces of ecstatic dancers in a club. The sun begins to rise towards the end of the movie and you at the cinema will feel like you just spent all night walking and dancing in the streets of Berlin. And the cast? The cast performs perfectly from beginning to end. If there had been a single trace of artifice in this demanding 140 minutes, the inertia of it all would have come to a screeching halt. Luckily, the performances have an authenticity to them, so much so that I am not ashamed that I audibly gasped at a particularly dramatic moment being as immersed into the entire ride as I was.