Victoria: Technical Feats in German Streets
Scott Tennant April 4, 2016
In 2014, Birdman released to widespread critical and commercial appeal and took home a host of awards at the 87th Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu made some interesting technical choices in the creation of Birdman, but the biggest stylistic choice was to make it look as if the whole movie were one ‘long take’. While in reality, there were cuts, it is still a very impressive accomplishment to film in such a way while also telling an interesting and coherent story.
Victoria decides to go the extra step and actually film in one continuous shot. Writer/director/producer Sebastian Schipper orchestrated this 2015 film in Berlin about a young Spanish girl named Victoria (played by Laia Costa) and her encounter with an interesting group of friends one night in Germany. The story takes the characters on a twisting path through one night in Berlin and through a wide range of emotions for the characters. The actors driving the plot are all very impressive here, especially when considering that the script was very limited due to the one-take nature of the filming. The dialogue between Victoria and her new friends all feels very real and natural. It does not all serve to progress the plot, but I think that is a big reason it feels so real. The characters drink, they laugh, and they joke around; these are same things that we all do, and anyone can relate to them. When things get serious, so do the performances of the actors, and the emotional extremes on display are gripping to watch unfold.
While we are admiring the performances of the actors, the camerawork by Sturla Brandth Grøvlen also deserves considerable praise. It all unfolds in one continuous shot and the way the camera follows the characters and the action is nothing short of impressive, especially as he wedges himself into cars and elevators with the actors so naturally. The continuous nature of the filming is very impressive and helps lend itself to the story. While the characters gallivant around Berlin, the camera is wide showing them all together. When it’s time for action, the camera comes close to Victoria (the focus of the film) and you see her emotion responses most clearly. One impressive scene separates Victoria from the rest of the gang for a few plot critical minutes. Victoria is left with little to do except hope and wonder about the others, much like those of us in the audience. Meanwhile, the action goes away from Victoria and we do not ever find out what actually happens while we are away. The camera stays close to Victoria as the dread builds inside her. It’s exceptionally riveting.
Filming a movie like this is as much an experiment in the style as it is a stylistic movie. I do not see this working for many movies; the types of stories that can be told in this way are very limited. A story like Victoria’s that takes place at a micro level with no special effects, that is largely a character is actually benefited from this film style. The filmmaking does not get in the way of the story, and the performances of the actors is accentuated. It did create some difficulties though; firstly, the film was very long, and at times bloated. Clocking in at almost two and a half hours, it is exhausting watching the long take style for that long. I think the length is in part due to the challenges of making a movie like this (moving people around, timing character entrances). The characters were also hard to understand at times, partially due to the different languages and accents, but also due to some of the sound mixing. I could see how that may have been a purposeful choice by the director, but I felt like I was missing information that I should know.
Overall, the film was immensely enjoyable. I did not want to spoil much, but Victoria is a very interesting character and there is a lot to discuss about her. The performances from the relatively unknown actors, working off of a very limited script was impressive, the camerawork was skillful, and the story was worth telling. I do not think I could handle if many more movies took this approach to film-making, but it certainly works for Victoria.