Starring: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit, Max Mauff
Director: Sebastian Schipper
Ok, let’s get it out in the open right away; Victoria has recently gathered a mass of attention specifically due to one single reason; that the entire movie was shot as a continuous take. Given that the film is almost two hours and twenty minutes in length, it appears an almost psychotic undertaking from director Schipper. Of course, technical adulation will undoubtedly be heaped upon him along with his crew and cast but, at that running time, no amount of gimmickry and technical genius will result in an outwardly enjoyable film unaided. The celluloid elephant in the editing suite was always going to question whether the movie could stand up respectably alone, or whether it was simply a cap-tipping academic experiment into the inventive horizons of film-making.
We are introduced to happy young Spaniard Victoria (Costa) struggling to make herself understood among her predominately aloof fellow revellers while dancing in a nightclub in East Berlin during the early hours of the morning. As she exits the club she meets cheeky fun-loving locals Sonne (Lau), Boxer (Rogowski), Blinker (Yigit) and Fuss (Mauff) who convince Victoria to let them show her the Berlin that only locals experience. The group come across as naughty but genuinely pleasant chancers as they steal beer and peanuts from sleeping shopkeepers and ride drunkenly on bikes around the city. Soon however, events conspire to pull Victoria into the quartet’s out of depth involvement in a terrifying criminal situation.
The narrative basically slices the movie into two totally separate sections; the first a fun filled, silly drunken escapade through Berlin, the second an edge of your seat crime thriller.
Whether one is of the opinion that the single shot premise is gratuitous posing or an ambitious inventive piece of film making, it’s fair to say that Schipper did not make this easy for himself. This is by no stretch of the imagination a simple shoot. The action weaves through the streets of Berlin, in and out of nightclubs, in cars and taxis, up ladders, in lifts, through subterranean car parks, in hotels and on bikes. You feel that primary cameraman Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (tellingly the first name on the credits) must have had a serious lie down after the final (and only) cut. The actors look genuinely exhausted towards the end and, as most of the films dialogue was apparently ad-libbed, this is a truly impressive feat in acting, particularly from Costa and Lau who are on screen almost continuously throughout.
Costa and Lau are both excellent and all supporting cast, especially Rogowski as Boxer, always quick to excuse his prison background as a good man who made a silly mistake, do really well. None here have done any harm to themselves in pulling this off and, although at times the dialogue feels strained, at no point do any of the actors fall out of character or feel like they are struggling for inspiration.
During a couple of tellingly long periods, music overdubs the dialogue; the only moments during post-production Schipper realises that certain stretches of the ad-libbing hasn’t quite come off. These are thankfully rare enough however to fall away forgotten fairly quickly.
Forgetting the one-shot principle for a moment and considering Victoria as a stand-alone film, the movie drags quite heavily during the latter sections of the first hour as the scenes at times meander aimlessly around the streets of Berlin. The second half of the movie suddenly shifts into a genuine edge of your seat thriller and it excels during this period. As Sonne becomes scattier and nervous, Victoria takes control over events and, although the narrative feels a little improbable at times, proceedings perceptibly shift from technical gimmickry to full throttle thriller material.
Victoria is a particularly difficult movie to score. Taken as a stand-alone film, it’s a slightly above average crime thriller about comradeship and local chancers well out of their depth in an underground crime scene. Taken as a technical and acting experiment it is a truly astonishing achievement. Either way, it’s a movie that deserves discussion and analysis for weeks after viewing.
7 / 10