One-shot films have a long history. In 1948 Alfred Hitchcock published Rope, his groundbreaking crime thriller that presented its narrative as a continuous take over its eighty-minute runtime. In reality, it was actually ten shots edited together to give the illusion of one take (some supposedly hidden edits being very obvious), but that didn’t matter. The film was a hit with critics and audiences alike, and set a precedent that countless directors have since attempted to surpass. Jump forward seven decades and the technique is more popular than ever. From indie dramas to prestigious Hollywood epics, one-shot movies are gradually becoming more than just a fun experience and more of a serious method of filmmaking. Thanks to the success of birdman and 1917which both won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, there’s no doubt that one-shot films will continue to grow in popularity for years to come.
But as unfortunately happens when a unique technique finds success in a few select movies, imitators will soon follow, often forgetting the most vital components of what made said technique good as they chase the crown that others have. already claimed. 1917for example, is an extraordinarily well-made film with hundreds of extras coordinated with perfect timing to the movement of an ever-moving camera, while incorporating a myriad of practical effects that must be orchestrated with the utmost precision, and making sure the lighting remains constant throughout his three-month shoot, and also making sure it’s all seamless so as not to spoil the illusion. But it’s also a film that gets to the root of the problem that most single-shot films suffer from: it’s a decision seemingly made less to benefit the film and more to impress critics. 1917 may have had phenomenal levels of work, but it’s also one where his central gimmick eclipses everything else. It never cracks the surface of believability, the precision of every moment feeling all too clean in the context of such a tragic event, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is just an exercise in directed rather than a film made with real passion. In theory, the idea of presenting its story without editing should anchor the film in reality, but in practice, it only increases the artifice Sam Mendes and the company are trying so hard to avoid.
This is an endemic problem with many films of this type, and it is precisely because Victoria avoids it which makes it the shining example of how to make a unique film. The 2015 drama focuses on the titular Victoria (Laia Costa), a Spaniard who recently moved to Berlin and works at a local café while dreaming of becoming a concert pianist. After a night out drinking in a club, she meets four young men who have lived in Berlin all their lives. She bonds with the group, especially with Sonne (Frederic Lau), but the night takes a dark turn when their connection to a local mobster is revealed, and Victoria finds herself descending into the more nefarious side of town.
The early sections of the film, depicting Victoria and her new friends as they wander the streets of Berlin, unfold like a Noah Baumbach independent drama. The night is young and there’s plenty of hedonism, with the first act doing a great job of establishing all the main cast. Director Sebastien Schipper be careful to never let the one-hit premise become distracting. No flashy lighting or Kubrick-esc compositions here. Instead, the camera just watches, hovering around the group as if they were an unseen sixth character. By the time the crime thriller part of the film begins, culminating in a bank robbery and then the aftermath as the quintet tries to evade capture by the police, the camera work is very different. The passivity of before is gone, replaced by a frantic, intense stare that mimics a news crew in the middle of a war-torn county. That Schipper can match the camera work with Victoria’s state of mind isn’t impressive on its own, but having it in the same uninterrupted shot is something else entirely. While it would have been easier to attach the camera to a Steadicam and shoot the entire movie like that, his decision to change the cinematic style on the fly shows his commitment to making a real movie rather than just an elaborate experience.
One of the consequences of presenting a film in one take is that the narrative progresses in real time, and Victoria make full use of it. The film presents itself as a two-hour snapshot of her life, beginning with her meeting these four men and ending with them leaving her life forever. Seeing how much she changes in such a short time says a lot about their effect on her, but also hints at a darker side to her character that is waiting for the right moment to come to life. Audiences see every second of this transformation, with the camera never leaving Victoria, providing a level of insight that a more traditional film could never afford. Schipper also uses the real-time nature of the film to develop his other main character, which is Berlin himself. After from Victoria opening in the nightclub, the film becomes an elaborate sightseeing tour of Berlin that covers convenience stores, cafes, rooftops, banks, a criminal base in an underground car park, and all the cobwebs of the streets that line them. all connect. Since the film moves between all of these locations in one uninterrupted shot, the audience gets a sense of the geography that a more conventionally edited film wouldn’t allow. Returning to the same nightclub that opened the film ninety minutes later is one thing, but being able to view every step leading up to it creates levels of immersion unmatched by other films.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the film is that, unlike many films that bill themselves as one-shots, Victoria is fully committed to its premise. No sneaky editing to hide different shots here, instead of the cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovlen attached a camera to himself and shot the whole movie April 27, 2014 between 4:30 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. It’s a remarkable achievement (especially since it only took three takes to get it right), but it’s an achievement that also benefits the film rather than just bragging about Grøvlen. The process of editing multiple shots to appear as one, while easier than ever thanks to digital editing and CGI, is still not seamless. A constant concern in birdman and 1917as well as countless films that attempt a single shot for a single sequence (with examples seen in Extraction, Atomic Blonde and children of men, to name a few), are the times when, if you pay enough attention, you can spot the changes. When the camera lingers on a blank wall for one second too long, or when something momentarily blocks the entire image for no sufficiently explained reason. These are moments that pass in the blink of an eye, but there are also moments that, for a matter of seconds, kill your immersion and remind you that what you are looking at is just an illusion. But Victoria has nothing to hide. It has the distinction of being one of the few films without editing, so Schipper and Grøvlen are free to frame their shots in a way that benefits the story being told, rather than having to worry about a glitch. of the real world impossible to solve. anyway. No doubt the decision to shoot Victoria as a true unbroken take was difficult (and was also the reason financiers proved inconvenient to come overseas during its development), but it’s a decision that greatly improves the film.
from Victoria last moment is one of his greatest. After escaping the police, Victoria walks silently through the streets of Berlin, shyly holding the money from the heist in her hand as if it were a bomb. The camera shakes, reflecting the whirlwind of thoughts swirling around his head. But then, for the first time since the beginning of the film, the camera frees Victoria from its grip. The portable aspect is removed, replaced by a stillness that feels more unnerving than calm. She disappears into the street. The night is over, a new day has dawned, but it will be a long time before she feels truly safe again. It’s a stark end note, but one that fits the narrative perfectly, and where the camera carries all the emotions of the scene without a single line of dialogue being necessary.
When the end credits begin, Sturla Brandth Grøvlen and the other names from the camera department appear before Schipper’s. As it should, because Victoria would be a shell of its potential without them. They deserve all the praise in the world for pulling off such an impossible task, and doing so without distracting from the film’s narrative is just icing on the cake. Selfish directors’ desire to flaunt their talents will ensure that unique films will continue to exist for many years to come, but hopefully they will learn a lesson from from Victoria technical approach.
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