The movie Victoria opens with images of a dark club, people dancing, and the pulse of a strobe light. Out of the mass of people the camera settles on a woman, Victoria, who is there partying by herself. The camera follows her from the dance floor to the bar where she unsuccessfully tries to make small talk with the bartender. The camera will continue to follow her, uninterrupted by cuts, fades, or dissolves, for the next two hours and twenty minutes. This film is shot in one continuous take as Victoria meets a few friendly revelers and spends the rest of the night with them, drinking, talking, and eventually getting into some trouble. Unlike Birdman, last year’s best picture Oscar winner, Victoria doesn’t rely on digital trickery to stitch multiple shots together, it really is one long continuous take. And different from Russian Ark, a wonderful one-shot movie that was filmed entirely in St. Petersburg’s Hermitage museum, Victoria takes place in many different locations- outdoors, indoors, subterranean, on rooftops, on bicycles and in cars. This movie goes many places, shows us many things, and it does it in real time. The effect is something like a play. The performances all the more impressive, the fluid camera a bravura performance on its own, the themes of the movie—loneliness, the choices we make and the reckoning one must do when faced with consequences that are unexpected and possibly dreadful—it’s all elevated.
The film starts in this subterranean club with Victoria (Laia Costa). Soon she meets a trio of men who seem nice enough. They invite her to come with them for some drinks and she agrees. Along the way they talk about their lives and become quite friendly with each other. These conversations have the possibility to blossom into real relationships, in particular with Sonne (Frederick Lau). Victoria and Sonne have an instant connection. As convivial as the whole affair seems, almost immediately things are not quite right. Victoria follows the men out of the club only to discover them trying to steal a car. They joke that it is theirs, but soon they are discovered and are forced to flee, laughing. They also shoplift beer and sneak onto a rooftop. These crimes feel almost innocuous in the haze of the late night- youthful indiscretion, casually written off in the name of a good time. Of course, all good times must come to an end and as things progress the night’s events keep getting darker and more desperate.
Along the way director and co-writer Sebastian Schipper finds time to slow the camera down and pause to take in the moment. Several times the action, but not the momentum, is put on hold for a moment as we look, quietly at the characters. In a film that is so of the moment, so immediate, these pauses where we take in a scene of the group walking towards a building, Victoria and Sonne on her bike, or another moment when a character begins to play the piano- these moments feel a little voyeuristic. Every other moment in the film is almost exclusively Victoria’s POV. Not literally, but emotionally. She’s the outsider here and as we encounter new places, characters, and situations, it is with her eyes that we experience and her heart that we feel. So when the perspective shifts, even minutely, to these moments where we watch as an outsider, it’s both beautiful and arresting. It reminded me of nights out I’ve had, especially late ones, where it feels like time stretches on forever. This is contrasted by the gritty second half of the film as the events begin to careen out of everyone’s control. The tension ratchets up to eleven. The film manages to surprise while also feeling completely inevitable.
Making movies is hard. It can be back breaking, soul crushing work. From the creative endeavor to the logistical nightmare that is organizing a cast, crew, and location. To do this all in one night, with one continuous shot, it gives me a headache thinking of the call sheets. Someone needs to give the location manager a hug or something. Credit must be paid to cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen. Grøvlen’s camera is always in control and is delivering beautiful images, even (and especially) in some of the more chaotic moments. The camera is almost another character here, taking in its surroundings, observing the other players, showing us the action around them. Its stunning work and absolutely deserves to be recognized by the Academy.
The other real find in this film is Spanish actress Laia Costa as Victoria. This film announces Costa as a force to be reckoned with in the acting world. I imagine we’ll be seeing her more in years to come. She commands the camera’s attention. Her emotional journey throughout the film is a sight to behold, and again, that it all occurs in one continuous take. This completely ups the wow factor here. It really is like watching a play, but with none of the static artifice that the stage gives us. Instead we get a dynamic film, and a performance, that feels gritty and real and beautiful. It’s soulful and exciting. Victoria is an emotional rollercoaster that must be seen to be believed, and on the biggest screen possible. Do everything you can to seek this film out in theaters. It opens in the US on October 9th.