Kicking off in a Berlin underground night club, Victoria (Laia Costa) playfully downs one shot as the audience and a very dedicated cameraman proceed to follow her around Berlin in the wee hours of the morning, all in one glorious 140-minute tracking shot.
Leaving the club, Victoria encounters Sonne (Frederick Lau) and his friends attempting to break into a car that they assure her they’ve been locked out of, only to be chased down the street by the owner. Victoria follows them to their home, carrying on the party and getting to know the curious group of strangers, building a special bond with Sonne as she later explains her feelings of isolation in Berlin and lonely childhood at a conservatorium of music. On a whim, Victoria agrees to accompany the men to a meeting where she and the others are forced to participate in a crime, the act and resulting fallout occupying much of the film’s focus.
The film and plot are unremarkable, but for the production crew pulling it all off in one fluid take. Long tracking shots are stand-outs and memorable moments in any film; whether it be Ray Liotta’s long walk from the street into the club in GOODFELLAS, or Clive Owen’s running through dystopia, dodging death at every corner in CHILDREN OF MEN. Music videos utilizing the method are not uncommon and can distinguish themselves for just that reason; think Taylor Swift’s We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, or Tacky, the first single off Weird Al’s new album.
One-shot takes are a monumental technical achievement – they require mass forethought and planning, scrupulous staging, consummate actors and a camera operator with biceps of steel. Watching a film in one motion, knowing that any moment someone could have screwed up, missed a cue or dropped the ball and have to do the whole thing over again is hugely thrilling and especially satisfying when it’s done well.
Other films have attempted the feat before – Alfred Hitchcock’s ROPE was staged much like a play, with the relatively short narrative viewed through several long shots of a three-walled set and a bunch of spoilt schoolboys debating Nietzsche. More recently, whole sections of BIRDMAN were told through tracking shots, including the film’s extended opening which follows Birdman Michael Keaton from his dressing room down onto the stage of his play.
Watching these moments are hugely gratifying in that they hold an audience, building suspense and barely giving us time to breathe, leaving no time for cutaways or establishing shots to recollect or let our mind wander as the action continues to unfold before our eyes. VICTORIA keeps the suspense up for the latter half of the film; an unengaging opening act where Victoria gets to know the others is followed by a highly tense meeting with their more dangerous associates. This leads on to more than one dramatic action sequence as the pressure on the characters gradually builds, a slow first half giving way to a breathtaking and very dramatic second and final act.
Costa and Lau carry VICTORIA in no small part, the tracking-cam’s focus staying on either or both of them for most of the film. They are both curious and at times sympathetic characters who do not find themselves in an ideal situation, heads above the other comparatively one-dimensional players by virtue of their shared charisma and relatability.
The crime itself is entirely predictable – my friend sitting next to me was able to foreshadow just about everything before it happened. Considering the risks involved and standard complications in such an act, the script gives the impression that this crime necessitated a lot less planning than the sort of preparation which would have gone into the actual film and its long-tracking shot.
Things tend to happen very fast when you have to tell a complex story in just over two hours – a bit of creative license is often overlooked within the unique dimensions of experiments like VICTORIA. Popular television series 24 featured Jack Bauer carrying out raids and foiling terrorist attacks in a matter of hours; the improbability and nonsensical nature of so much that happened throughout the show being forgiven, as it can be here, for the unusual pleasure of seeing action-filled events [rather than their being broken up and splintered] occurring in real time.
Most interesting about VICTORIA is that the tracking shot doesn’t take place in a confined space, instead following the characters over Berlin into homes, banks, hotels and dance clubs. Both ROPE and BIRDMAN were set in comparatively confined areas; VICTORIA distinguishing itself by frequently switching up its various locations. The film manages to pull off the huge technical task of featuring the start, middle and end of its one long, unedited shot in entirely different settings.
A huge achievement in technical photography, once the film kicks off, VICTORIA’s tense action, effective staging and overall fluidity will make it very difficult to turn away.