I try not to read much criticism before I watch a film. I love reading it but not necessarily to see if I should see something. I prefer to use my own judgement on whether a film’s worth it. But I do like reading it afterwards. For one thing, you might get a different insight on what you’ve just watched. I know it’s not really the point of reviews but I don’t want to be swayed by somebody else’s opinion. And it’s good practice to help avoid spoilers. Most reviews are fine but these days film criticism has moved beyond just giving you an opinion. It’s all about getting that word count up so some people use their platform to reveal most if not all of the plot. It’s ridiculous. But I’m getting distracted. The point I wanted to make was this: so many people seem to have been criticising Sam Mendes’ film for not being a true single-shot movie. They’ve complained that it’s too obvious where the edits are and some have even described it as “distracting”. I have to sigh. Do we know the cuts are there? Yes. Does it make the whole thing any less impressive? No freaking way.
A lot has been made of the faux single-shot that gives 1917 its theatrical and immersive (still hate that word) feel. It really is technical wizardry and you have to respect Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins for their work. It’s breathtaking. But, it’s still not good enough for some people. Though the simple fact is, 1917 wouldn’t have worked as well had it been a single-shot film. It wouldn’t have had the same scope or the same magnitude had it been. It wouldn’t have felt the same. It would take a much more intimate and personal narrative for something like that to work. Something like Victoria. Did I choose this as my Throwback Thursday post just so I had an excuse to watch it again? Well, it would mean I didn’t just buy a copy of it for no reason.
Shot between 4:40 am and 6:54 am on the 27 April 2014 in the Kreuzberg and Mitte neighbourhoods of Berlin, Victoria is a German crime thriller film directed by Sebastian Schipper. It follows a young Spanish girl, the Victoria, on a wild night out that starts when she meets a group of German men. Victoria joins the gang as they all leave a club in the early hours of the morning. She is drawn to one of them, Sonne, and he convinces her to hang out with them. The evening ends up being quite eventful with some minor robbery, sneaking onto a roof, piano playing, and some heart to hearts. But things quickly take a dark turn as the gang are drawn into a robbery and they need Victoria’s help. It’s then that everything starts to fall apart.
On a technical level, Victoria is an amazing piece of filmmaking. Schipper filmed a back-up version of the film that used tradition shot cutting but he never thought it was good enough. He then had just three attempts to get the single-shot right. He thought the first was too timid and the second a little too much in the other direction. Like every good sports movie, it all came down to the final attempt. Schipper and his team knew that they had to get everything right. Did they do it? Most certainly. The single-shot is an amazing piece of wizardry but Victoria is so much more than its technical brilliance. It is a raw and authentic film about one young woman’s experience. It is a story full of so many different emotions. It’s adrenalin-fuelled, emotional, and personal. It’s brilliant filmmaking without any of the unnecessary frills.
The film never rushes to where it’s going. It’s very much a slow burner. We spend time with these people and get to know them a bit. We have to wait for anything to really happen but it’s not as if what we’re seeing isn’t engaging. It reels you in. And because of this time with the characters, you really get to appreciate how much they change as the story goes on. How their faces change and their body language. How they adapt to their new situations and adapt to their new circumstances. You really get to appreciate the performances here, particularly from Laia Costa and Frederick Lau who play Victoria and Sonne.
Unlike 1917 there is something of a downplay of the technical aspects. Everything is worked out so that the one-shot doesn’t seem too obvious or distracting. It just becomes the way you see the world. As I said in my review of 1917, I hate the way the word “immersive” has been thrown about lately but this film is immersive. The camera stops being a camera and becomes your point of view. You’re part of the story. Being taken on a journey through many of the districts of Germany’s capital. They manage to bring it to life and make it seem full of possibility. They also make it seem endless. Though it’s shot in real-time, there are sequences in this film that feel so much longer. You forget that you’ve only been somewhere for a few minutes because of how much emotion or drama there is.
Though the scope of Victoria may not have been as wide and far-reaching as Sam Mendes’ latest film, you go on as much of a journey with the characters here as you do there. Once you get to the final shot, you’ll have gone through so much with people you feel you know a lot about. You’ve hung out with these people. You’ve watched them have fun together. You’ve seen how strong their bonds are. You’ve been part of everything they’ve been through and you’ll be exhausted. A lot of people won’t be able to see beyond the one-shot here but, if you’re willing to see it, the film is full of good stuff. The performances, the characterisation, and the tonal shifts are all worth sticking around for. Is the story really going to set the world on fire? No, but you don’t always need the most original story. When everything else works so well, the simpler the narrative the better. I’ve seen enough cooking shows to know that.