The idea of shooting a movie entirely in one take has always been more impressive on paper than the actual result. On one hand, you have to give the filmmakers and actors credit for putting in their full effort and making a movie where everyone has to try hard not to fuck up, but on the other hand, this results in a lot of unnecessary dead space. It was never impressive, not when Alfred Hitchcock infamously attempted it with Rope, especially when you consider he faked it by just zooming into the actors backs, and it’s especially not impressive in movies that pointlessly fake it for no reason whatsoever. The most baffling case of it happened in 2002’s Irreversible, which pointlessly faked it despite the fact that the 100 minute film took place over a 20 hour period. On the other hand, there’s Victoria. It was shot entirely in one take over a 140 minute period of time in Berlin, but on the other hand, there’s a lot of dead space that happens in the film as a result. Victoria is a film that seems to have garnered a lot of acclaim for pulling off a simple heist flick with these technical aspects, and it’s also become a film festival darling for that exact same reason.
Given that I’ve already stated that I’m not a fan of one-take movies, and that I usually hate film festivals because, more often than not, they usually end up being complete glorified circle jerks, my interest in Victoria is pretty ironic and also strange. Now, on one hand, it’s easy to see why people would like Victoria. The aforementioned one-take gimmick is a major selling point, and it seems to have worked on a lot of people. Additionally, the movie’s story is pretty interesting and there’s a few surprises that come as a result of it, which I’ll get to later but… holy fuckballs, I cannot name a single movie in the past decade that has gotten more undeserved acclaim and hailing as classic than Victoria. Gravity may be overrated and loved only for its visuals, but at least it’s actually a pretty good movie. Victoria‘s problem is that it’s incredibly empty and incredibly bloated. For a start, it’s 138 minutes long, yet you could cut a good hour’s worth of footage out of the movie and not a lot would be missed. It’s a simple heist film, and all of the movie’s actual content seems to start around the 55 minute mark. It’s not necessarily a bad movie, it’s just that it seems to coast on (and at times even beat you over the head with) its gimmick, which bloats its runtime as a result.
Warning: some spoilers to follow
The movie starts with, you guessed it, Victoria (Laia Costa), dancing in an underground Berlin nightclub. As the film reveals, she’s a Spanish girl who has just moved to Berlin from Madrid, and runs her own cafe. She has one last drink of Schnapps and leaves, bumping into a group of friends. They seem like just your average local partygoers who drink a lot and go to clubs to pick up chicks. Sonne (Fredrik Lau), the “good” one of the bunch (and also the most handsome one), convinces her to head back to one of theirs’ apartments and chill with them for a drink on the roof. And it’s right here where we immediately realize that the one take gimmick was indeed a bad idea. Director of photography Sturla Brandth Grøvlen is obligated to follow the actors wherever they go- anywhere and everywhere-even if it’s a 30 minute walk from Mühlenstraße to Storkhower straße. So this means we are next treated to about 10 minutes of them walking to the apartment next. By this point in the movie, we’re 25 minutes in, but in a movie that wasn’t shot in one take, this would probably be the 17 minute mark. We’re also forced to sit through a mundane amount of time of them sitting on the rooftop, then following Sonne taking Victoria back home to her cafe and them talking. In the film’s defense, by this point in the movie, it has crammed in some form of character development. Earlier, when they’re sitting on the rooftop, it’s revealed that Boxer (Franz Rogowski) recently just got out of jail, and during the cafe bit, we learn a bit about Victoria. She wanted to be a pianist, and she even demonstrates her classical piano skills to Sonne, who can’t help but smile and be mesmerized at it (and what a smile he’s got- shown in the screencap above).
It’s at this point (and an hour into the movie) where finally, some actual story happens. Just as Sonne is about to leave, Fuß (Max Mauff), the floppy haired one of the bunch, stumbles into the cafe and pukes all over the floor, and it’s at this point where it’s revealed where after taking Victoria back to the cafe, they were to embark on a robbery, one that required four, and Fuß was supposed to drive. But, because he’s drunk, and we all know what happens when you drink and drive, Victoria agrees to help be the driver on a robbery. It’s also revealed that Boxer owes this robbery as a favour to a big boss, as he provided Boxer some security when he was in prison. And to the film’s credit, this portion is pretty entertaining. After heading to a loading area where they’re given instructions, the robbery happens, and it’s pretty engaging. Yet even this portion of the film is hurt by the gimmick. We are supposed to watch them drive to and from the bank where the robbery takes place. It’s by sheer miracle that none of the tension has been lost (from what I read, after the robbery, director Sebastian Schipper was hiding in the back of the van making sure nothing happened, only for Laia Costa to start driving in the wrong direction and Schipper had to start yelling out the correct directions. Perhaps that’s why). But the fact that a movie owes some of its most tense moments to a gimmick is exactly what sums up what’s wrong with the movie: it’s pretty fucking pointless.
It’s a shame, because I truly do believe that there’s an enjoyable and truly great movie hidden in this 138 minute mess. The problem is, remove the gimmick, and it isn’t there. There’s even a scene that hammers this this in further where, after the robbery, the gang return to the underground club where the movie began. This might not be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that… it’s the same club you saw at the beginning at the movie. This was done so some mouth breathing moron in the audience can point at the screen and go, “hey look it’s the same club we saw when this take started about 90 minutes ago!” (slightly off topic, but I also read somewhere that Schipper got the take on the third try. One must wonder if the cast was starting to feel relieved that it wasn’t fucked up at this point). In a normal movie, it’d come off as the gang just celebrating after a robbery, but here it serves to remind us that, hey everybody, we’re watching a one take movie! Another problem with the gimmick is that it also allows for some post production errors to slip in- in two instances in the movie, Grøvlen’s nose breathing can be heard. You’d think that they’d have edited this out, but nope, hearing the cameraman nose-breathe over two scenes that are supposed to be tense really detracts from the experience. And it’s especially disappointing when you consider that this movie also excells as far as its performances go. Everybody in the movie does a fine job with their performances. Laia Costa is exceptional as the film’s title character, and Frederik Lau is absolutely amazing- in fact, they’re the two actors who stand out, who also happen to be the actors playing the two good characters, which also is further proof that this film fails. Lau’s face acting in particular is absolutely stellar, and near the end his extremely expressive face manages to pull off some spectcularly convincing pained facial expressions. Additionally, Franz Rogowski does an exceptional job as the “bad boy” of the bunch. Problem is, these are performances deserving of a much better movie.
In the end what Victoria boils down to is film festival bait, and is nothing more than a technical marvel. It’s a shame, because I enjoy a good heist movie as much as the next guy. Problem is, the movie is so empty and has the fact that the whole movie is one real-time shot to fall back on. Part of the magic of cinema is its ability to compress time into two hours’ worth of runtime for the audience to absorb, and while real-time can be engaging, it’s hardly interesting when the story follows one group of people, and even more so when it’s fucking twelve and a fucking half fucking minutes and fucking about a fucking simple fucking heist. But, at the sametime, who am I to tell people they’re wrong. You’re probably gonna disagree with me anyways, and like the movie because its one-take gimmick makes for a more immersive experience. Well, in that regard, enjoy.
m - 5/10
Victoria, while technically impressive, is sadly emotionally and intellectually empty, lacking enough substance to let the audience see beyond its gimmick, and also lacking enough story to justify its bloated length.