Movie: Victoria (2015)
Director: Sebastian Schipper
Composer: Nils Frahm
Today, I want to talk about a composer I’ve only just discovered. If you’ve already read some of my earlier entries, you might have noticed that I have a soft spot for contemplative/melancholic music. For those of you who’ve seen Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria, it should come to no surprise that I absolutely loved the soundtrack. I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a movie’s soundtrack. And obviously, after watching the movie for the first time, I immediately looked up the movie’s composer and discovered the work of Nils Frahm. If you’re like me and you love contemplative/melancholic music, go ahead and do yourself a favor by purchasing any of his albums and having an eargasm from the first note to the last.
Now, as usual, let me start off by sharing my thoughts about the movie. Originally, I wasn’t really interested in watching this film because it has an awful Netflix description and I hadn’t really heard anything about it. It’s only after a dear friend of mine suggested it to me that I decided to watch it and boy was I grateful to that recommendation. I think my experience can be summed up by the words “holy fucking shit”. From the first frame to the last (frame is the right term to use here because this movie is a single take – yep, you read that right), director Sebastian Schipper has created one of the best suspense films I have ever seen. At first glance, a single shot movie can seem extremely hard but with the right coordination and direction, it’s very doable. However, seeing as this movie doesn’t even have a script and the actors had to improvise almost the entirety of their dialogue, I don’t (and probably never will be able to) understand how in the living hell they pulled off such an incredible and complicated task.
Putting the technical side on hold for a minute, this movie has a fantastic story and its characters are very realistic. The cast had an incredible amount of freedom when it came to creating their characters and I believe it worked extremely well. Most of the dialogue is improvised so the characters seem genuinely real because they overlap each-other and keep cutting themselves off mid sentence. It also helps that we know nothing about them in the beginning and learn who they are as we progress through the story. This might seem dull and obvious, but if you want to create a movie were intrigue/suspense is the main feeling you want to convey to the spectator, it’s an extremely useful writing technique. Not knowing what the fuck is going on is the best way to place your audience in a state of mind that doesn’t feel reassuring. And that brings me to the music, the only aspect the spectator can really relate to in this film. So, let us segway into Nils Frahm’s amazing score.
First off, let me just say that this movie doesn’t need any music, but I’m sure glad it has some because I wouldn’t have discovered Frahm’s work otherwise. However, to support my point, here’s a statement from Frahm himself, “Does such a strong film even need music? I realised it wouldn’t be easy to create a score that embraces these bold pictures.” With that state of mind, Frahm decided he wanted to improvise the movie’s soundtrack. I would explain it to you in my own words, but I’ll let Frahm do it himself (I’m a little lazy, I know), “We simply put a big screen in the middle of the room, filled it with microphones and instruments, set the movie on loop and kept improvising on top of it. The guest musicians started their recording session by playing a cohesive take over the course of the whole movie. This was the most interesting part of the day, since they hadn’t seen the film before. They became spectators and creators at once, intuitively recording hundreds of different cues that way.” How awesome is that? A lot of composers go through the same process but actually sit down and compose some music afterwards. Not Frahm, he stayed in that creative “step” and took advantage of it. By letting his musicians improvise while watching the movie, the score becomes one of the aspects the spectator relates to the most.
So how did Frahm actually achieve this apart from letting his team create the whole soundtrack intuitively? Well, I won’t make you an insane analysis about the multiple ways he did so, but Frahm used a couple of techniques that are used by famous composers like Hans Zimmer. I’m not entirely sure these techniques have actual names but I’ll make some up just for shits and giggles. The first technique is what I call “the ticking clock”. If you’ve seen any films composed by Zimmer, you probably know what I’m talking about. The ticking clock is usually a repeated percussion sound resembling the sound and feel of a ticking clock (duh). Some of you might be asking yourselves, what the hell does that even do? Well, my friends, the ticking clock is very useful when it comes to tension. The repeated percussion sound mimics the sound of time and gives the spectator a feeling of urgency and importance. That’s why Frahm used it during the movie and it works incredibly well with the scene it supports (I don’t want to spoil it for you). Another technique is the one I call “the room tone”. In one of the songs, you can hear a lot of noises as if the music was recorded exactly where the characters are. Not only does that make the song blend itself into the scene with a ridiculous ease, it puts the spectator’s subconscious in the same place/state of mind as the characters. It helps the audience embrace the inconceivable story they’re watching. And that, my friends, is why this soundtrack works so well; because it becomes a spectator. It takes you by the hand, brings you into the story, and discovers the movie with you.
Victoria is a very unique film and will probably go down as one of the best technical achievements in cinematic history. I mean for fuck’s sake, they did a long shot through half of Berlin… If that doesn’t impress you, I don’t know what will. Look, long story short: Nils Frahm is an amazing composer and Victoria is definitely worth watching.
Interesting trivia: Because the movie had to rely a lot on improvisation, some events happening in the movie aren’t actually scripted. For instance, the first cop car you can see in the movie is actually a fake one, but the second one wasn’t planned. There are multiple instances where the actors had to just “go with it” and that’s what makes the movie so great.
WARNING – The trailer is full of spoilers and you shouldn’t watch it if you’re planning on watching the whole movie.
Song: Our Own Roof
Thanks for reading (and listening). See you next time!