Continuous Complication: Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria (2015) – Blu-ray review
The long take? Audacious. The short take? It’s a shame this takes so long to say so little.
(Sebastian Schipper, 2015)
The long take has been around as long as cinema itself; most early shorts consisted of a single, static shot, and it took a while for directors to realise the power and potential of montage. Even so, the long take survived, often deemed as the medium’s best hope for realism against the deliberate reconstruction of reality that comes with editing.
Then again, it’s also the director’s best chance at showboating. From Alfred Hitchcock’s artfully concealed ‘fake take’ Rope to Orson Welles’ bravura opening shot in Touch Of Evil, the long take has been synonymous with the desire to create a wow factor. In recent decades, technological strides have enabled entire films to be done seamlessly, whether because of digital camera (Russian Ark) or digital FX (Birdman). Even so, Victoria is something else.
Here’s a film of brazen chutzpah, which dares to throw caution to the wind. It’s a semi-improvised, streetwise drama that unfurls, in real time, into a manic thriller, its tongue-tied meet-cute giving away to heists and shootouts. And it’s a genuine single take, which sets out to be a logistical nightmare – vehicles, lifts, multiple locations and predominantly a night shoot. So much could go wrong here it’s a minor miracle the film exists at all.
And there’s a point, of sorts, in that the immersion gives a veneer of plausibility to the kind of ‘wild night out’ narrative that often sinks into an illogical scramble to the climax. The technical restrictions keep the story from getting too outlandish and mean that the compositions have to be simple, leading to the inevitable tactic of keeping Laia Costa’s eponymous heroine in the frame as much as possible. It is likely that she’d be so swept off her feet by the Berlin lads she meets that she’d become their accomplice in crime? Maybe, maybe not – but the exhilaration that comes from flying alongside her makes the decision an intuitive one.
Truth be told, though, there’s a reason why editing became the norm in movies. At times, the desire to create something freeform here tips over into being merely shapeless; the first hour has a few too many banal conversations that – given the broad-strokes characterisation – are marking time so the shift into a pacier register doesn’t feel too abrupt.
And there are only so many times you can watch as the camera circles around the actors, squeezes into a lift with them or clambers out of another car. Revealingly, the end credits opt to emphasise the star of the show (cameraman Sturla Brandth Grøvlen) rather than director Schipper. That’s a laudable nod to the guy who literally did the heavy lifting, but also a tacit acknowledgement that, after 135 minutes or so of the camera rolling, there’s a limit to how much a filmmaker can do to direct.
Victoria is released on Blu-ray on Monday 23rd May.
Tagged World Cinema