Strobe lights pulse hypnotically as the camera pans to Victoria swaying on the dance floor. Only the pumping bass breaks the silence, beating like her heart as she gathers her long hair and tosses it over her head.
The camera follows her out into the bar to down a shot of schnapps and then up the graffiti-plastered stairs into the street. It’s then the audience suddenly realizes, as the darkness of the club turns to light, it’s 10 minutes into the movie and it’s all been one shot.
Films that are filmed in one continuous shot are few and far between; even the highly acclaimed movie “Birdman” was only made to look like it was captured in one shot. However, the German film “Victoria” is one of few to attempt this feat.
Directed by Sebastian Schipper, “Victoria” screened Tuesday night in the James Bridges Theater as part of the Graduate Students Association’s Melnitz Movies programming. The film was shot in one take and with no script. Director and lead actor Laia Costa appeared afterwards for a Q&A. Mohannad Ghawanmeh, co-director of the program, said the film was one of the most immersive he had seen all year.
“Victoria” won a handful of honors including Best Fiction Feature Film and Best Director at the German Film Awards in June, and was awarded a Silver Bear at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival.
Set mostly in the gray industrial suburbs of Berlin, “Victoria” is the story of a Spanish girl working in a cafe who has recently moved to the city after being kicked out of musical school. She leaves her obsessive life of a concert pianist behind for a new one.
When she climbs out of an underground nightclub in the early hours of one morning, Victoria is befriended by a group of young locals who take her around the city, stopping to steal booze and cigarettes from a sleeping salesman. Sonne, played by actor Frederick Lau, and his mates take her to their hideaway rooftop where they drunkenly chat before returning to her cafe.
For Schipper, making “Victoria” in one take and with no script felt like a creative release from the pressures which come with more conventional filmmaking.
“To do ‘Victoria’ is to get away from a lot that feels like school,” Schipper said. “To do something interesting with your life, but especially with a book or a record or film, I think you need to get out of the concept of getting an A.”
People’s reaction to the film has often been quite aggressive, Schipper said, with many asking accusatory questions about why he chose to film in this format. Schipper said because viewers are not used to seeing a whole film done in one take, they are left confused by the lack of cuts.
However, with hindsight, Schipper said making the film was about surviving the chaotic filming process, and it reinforced his conviction that film scripts are an over-emphasized medium.
While working on a time-consuming script for his next movie, the idea for “Victoria” came to Schipper in a daydream about robbing a bank. When he came out of his reverie, Schipper said it took some time to convince himself the concept of making a film on this subject was a good one.
Costa, who plays Victoria, said filming the whole movie in a single take was easy for her because she prefers improvised to scripted acting. She said it was fascinating to enter Schipper’s dream.
“I’ve never thought about robbing a bank before, but when he (Schipper) invited me to do it, I thought I (wanted to) rob one all of a sudden,” Costa said.
Both Schipper and Costa said working out the characters’ backgrounds in great detail was the key to pulling off a movie without a script.
To prepare for the emotional moments about triumph and failure that her character experiences in the film, Costa said she watched documentaries about young piano geniuses, to capture the feelings of how one of them would feel after having a dream crushed.
Victoria’s motive for riding along with total strangers lies in the rejection she has faced in her life, Schipper said. The director likened her to a princess, going into a dark forest with the Berlin boys as a pack of wolves.
However, Schipper said she is far from a naive character, describing her as more of a megalomaniac. For her, going on an wild alcohol- and drug-fueled experience is a release from the obsessive life she used to have.
“She says to herself, ‘maybe this is an advantage of not being a princess anymore,’” Schipper said. “So she says, ‘I’m not a princess anymore, let’s see what’s the upside of that is.’”