If you ever attend film screenings, or art films, or really any movie that does not involve a superhero or a car driving off the edge of a cliff, you've probably encountered the aggressive film geek. He is almost always a young man, and he wants you, and everyone around you, to know how much he knows about the movies. Macho in a nebbishy way, film geeks recognize one another by a nearly pheromonal reaction, and congregate before screenings to engage in an odd kind of film-centric dick-measuring contest. They show off their movie trivia and knowledge of obscure or forgotten titles in between exchanges of their scrupulously eccentric opinions about mainstream titles. ("Black Widow is the best Avengers hero," I once heard one of them say as if he wanted to be taken seriously.)
For many years, a single question was enough to identify a macho film geek. "Have you seen Russian Ark?" That question is about to be replaced by "Have you seen Victoria?"
Russian Ark, in case you're not an aggressive film geek, was the 2002 film shot in a single two-hour take inside the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. That feat seemed impossible then, when digital video was just emerging in feature films. Victoria, which comes out in the States this Friday, is also composed of a single take, although it is far more impressive as a narrative stunt. Russian Ark was a series of scenes culled from Russian history. But Victoria is a heist movie, with action scenes and plot twists and character development. It has the structure of a thriller, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The daring of Victoria is a key component of the aesthetic experience. Right from the beginning, the audience sympathizes with the filmmakers as much as the characters. How far into the movie would they have been willing to stop? At what point did they think, Okay, we just have to do this no matter what happens? Anxiety for the actors builds as the film progresses. I especially felt for minor actors. You don't want to walk in, flub a line, and screw up the movie two hours in.
This strange, oppressive sense of mingled joyful surprise and anxiety works perfectly for the action of the heist. The Victoria of the title, a young Spanish woman who has recently immigrated to Berlin, is dancing at an underground club, and decides not to sleep the two hours between four and six, when she starts her shift at a coffee shop. As she leaves the club, she runs into four charming and highly drunk Germans. They take her on a small adventure onto the rooftop of an apartment building. This part is actually believable: People do crazy things at four in the morning in Berlin.
Slowly it all unspools into chaos, and I don't want to ruin the film by giving away the twists and turns that lead to a bank robbery, the kidnapping of a baby, and murder. But it is incredibly thrilling to watch, on at least two levels. At one point, Victoria finds herself driving a getaway car; her colleagues have stormed into the bank to rob it and the car suddenly stops running. It would be a nice moment in an ordinary heist movie. But before you realize it's been planned, you think: Oh my God, the movie's broken down. The car stopped running in the middle of the take. The car starts up again, of course, and the movie keeps going, but the audience I was with laughed nervously for about a minute after that trick.
Obviously, this is a movie made for film geeks. It forces the viewer to imagine how it was all put together, and the aggressive film geek wants nothing more than to be involved in the making of movies – a not-so-suppressed wish. But Victoria is also highly watchable for people who just like going to the movies – it would work perfectly well as a real-time thriller that had multiple cuts. And that's a feat far more stunning than cramming a whole movie into a single take: making a film that the geeks adore and that everybody else will enjoy, too.
Victoria is showing at the BFI London Film Festival on 16 October and will be released in the UK on 29 April 2016
This article was originally published on Esquire.com