Strobe lights and the muted thump of dance music. Bodies move and shake upon the dance floor of a nightclub. A girl detaches herself from the crowd, and exits through to the bar outside. The camera doesn’t leave her for an instant as she enters the bathroom, leaves the bar, and goes onto the street outside. In fact, the camera does not leave her for the entire film.
Victoria is a film shot in one, continuous take. There are no cuts and no edits, no resets or fade-outs. Every moment of the unfolding narrative is captured on camera, until you become the cameraman walking along behind the characters.
It follows the eponymous Victoria, a Spanish girl in Berlin out on her own for a good time. On her way out of a night club, she runs into a group of four East Berlin natives who invite her along to join in the celebration of their friend, Fuss’, birthday. Though initially reluctant, Victoria agrees, and joins them on a night out that develops into a very surprising and quite different adventure than what you would expect.
One striking feature of this film is the level of realism and intimacy achieved with its single-take nature. The dialogue in the film is almost completely improvised, which, while clumsy at points — most notably towards the end — lends Victoria a particular charm, and really brings it into the realm of the credible.
The one-take nature also makes it an unusually intense and draining experience – it’s hard to explain if you haven’t watched other films like Birdman which do a similar thing, but the absence of cuts and the inability to safely switch off your attention at any point can really take it out of you. At one stage, where they ascend to a rooftop, the absence of cutting is particularly noticeable as the cameraman crowds into the elevator along with two of the characters, instead of merely compressing time to when they emerge onto the roof.
Admittedly, the intensity of this exercise in camerawork may not be for everyone.
Mechanically, Victoria is fantastic. The camera is rarely shaky or unsteady, and the cast know where to be and when, leading to a very smooth experience. Periods of dialogue are linked together with a breathtaking soundtrack written by German composer Nils Frahm, which only intensifies the already pretty heavy emotions running throughout.
Victoria‘s greatest fault probably lies in its script. It’s not that the story is bad, per se, being easily the equal of a standard film, but it loses some of its credibility about three-quarters of the way through and never quite regains it. When the captivating realism of Victoria is what’s holding your attention, having this illusion of reality suddenly shattered can be rather jarring. Still, Victoria is an amazing experience, and one that is difficult to replace.