Shortly after finishing a column the other day where I focused on Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and the beauty and power of his long single-take shots, I sat down to watch arty suspense flick “Victoria,” which was shot entirely in one take. If films like “Birdman” or “The Revenant” display the immersive magic of the long take, “Victoria” is a painful example of how not to do it.
This single-take cinematography won a Silver Bear award for Sturla Brandth Grovlen at the 65th Berlin Film Festival, and it’s the main selling point of “Victoria.” Witness its embarrassingly high-concept tag line: “One girl. One city. One night. One take.” One-star review is more like it.
Many gullible critics were impressed, but beyond the real-time conceit, “Victoria” offers nothing more than a threadbare heist flick. Laia Costa plays Victoria, a Spanish girl recently arrived in Berlin who meets a group of drunken guys while out clubbing, hangs out with them (first hour), and becomes attracted enough to Sonne (Frederick Lau) that she joins them on an armed robbery (second hour).
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||138 mins|
Yes, Grovlen manages to shoot “Victoria” from beginning to end for 134 minutes with no cuts, but that’s less impressive when you realize the quality of the shots is terrible. This has got to be some of the wobbliest handheld camera-work ever committed to screen; Grovlen can’t hold even a single shot steady for a few seconds. This shakiness destroys the immersive “you-are-there” potential of the long take; skipping down the street with a few friends shouldn’t feel like being tossed in the laundry on spin cycle.
The camera work is also too reactive, always trying to catch up with the characters, never anticipating them. This results in way too much camera movement; Grovlen knows not where to look nor when. Half the scenes wind up being the dreaded back-of-the-head shot, where the camera is following the characters a pace or two behind. Note to cameraman: Actors are paid to emote, and to do that, they need their faces.
Director Sebastian Schipper had only 12 pages of script, and with the cameras rolling nonstop, he let the actors improvise their lines, aiming for the loose conversational style of something like the Richard Linklater film “Before Sunrise.” The difference, of course, is that Linklater’s films are actually very tightly scripted, and it’s a testament to his actors’ skills that they feel so intimate and casual. The dialogue in “Victoria” is banal and it feels like everyone in the cast is mugging for the camera, trying to draw its wavering attention. There’s also way too much drunken “I love you guys!” bro’-moting for any film that isn’t set in a frat.
Plot-wise, “Victoria” is one of those movies that dashes itself on the rocks of plausible motivation, where the characters act so moronically that you lose any trace of sympathy for them. (Think “Enter The Void.”) Any woman would think twice about going down a dark alley and breaking into a building with four very wasted guys she’d just met, especially if one of them was a wild-eyed neo-Nazi-looking skinhead, and all were speaking a language she didn’t understand. Not our Victoria, though; she’s so trusting that an hour later she’s offering to drive the getaway car.
I felt like Saul Goodman watching this: What sort of criminals steal a car that’s a stick shift when they only know how to drive automatics? And then grab a random girl they just met to drive it? Potential witness, anyone? What sort of idiots, having pulled off an armed robbery, don’t stash the cash, but instead go right back to the club — near where they jacked the car — and dance around cheering with €50,000 stuffed in their pants? Or drop their jackets — so the cops won’t ID them — in the same car park where they ditch the stolen car, fingerprints and DNA all over them?
When the cops catch up with these dolts, you can only think “About time,” but no, this nonsense continues for another 45 minutes. Spare yourself.
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