Synopsis – A young Spanish woman who has newly moved to Berlin finds her flirtation with a local guy turn potentially deadly as their night out with his friends reveals a dangerous secret.
My Take – The only thing from the start that intrigued me about this film was that it would all be filmed in one take. I remember watching Birdman: or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014) and being blown away by how director Alejandro González Iñárrituwas (The Revenant) was able to make it look like a continuous take. For this film, the cast and crew undertook a week of rehearsals before actually shooting the film. The technical achievement of this film can not be completely appreciated until the final credits roll. It’s exhausting. An engrossing, kinetic and intense exercise in film making that will not appeal to all audiences. But, to those it does strike the appeal towards, you are in for a treat. The story nicely put the thriller aroma into the whole one long single uncut shot deal. As Birdman is a heavy delirious drama dealing with relationships and personal flaws, this film is a very grounded movie set about how a girl’s day can turn from the ordinary youth into the one against the law. What I also like about the film is that this movie’s chronology is really a straight through two hour duration, without any time skip, unlike Birdman. For a run time of 138 minutes, we span across 22 locations throughout Berlin, starting at a techno club where we meet our Spanish protagonist, Victoria (Laia Costa). The opening shot is a pulsating one, in which you can not ignore. The blue strobe lights fade in, a beat pulsates heavily, and there, slowly coming into focus, is Victoria dancing – essentially by herself. Her loneliness is set up early on the film, with her isolated/out-of-place presence around the club and the fact that she asks the bartender himself if he’d like to have a drink. As she leaves the club, she bumps into four men: Sonne (Frederick Lau), Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit) and Fuss (Max Mauff). They’re an odd set of characters (with names that would suit reindeers better) but they show Victoria attention, attention that she appears to have been craving whilst living alone in Berlin. The group appears to be led by Sonne, or at least he is the one whom Victoria hits it off with the most. They ask if she wants to join them to celebrate Fuss’s birthday. Initially unsure, she agrees. Seems unlikely?
Don’t worry you’ll be glad she did. After spending more time with these men, moving across rooftops and through the streets, we end up at the café which Victoria works at, and which she has to open for or in the morning. Keep in mind that it’s past 5AM by this point, so her sleep would be limited. This moment feels like the core of “Victoria” (as both a film and character). A sudden impromptu piano sequence shows a much more emotional side to Victoria, and further expands upon the possible romantic opportunities between herself and Sonne. The sequence which follows completely shifts the film into a separate genre, and that’s what is so great about it. We have now entered the genre of ‘crime’, where by in which our boys owe a favor to a certain “not-to-be-reckoned-with” figure. Your heart will be in your throat during certain points as Victoria is roped into an intense bank heist. First of all the most important thing – because it’s so enormous relevant in this particular subject for this flick to work – the cinematography respectively the cameraman, Sturla Brandth Grøvlen. His camera work is extraordinary. The fact that he’s filming nearly 138 minutes straight is remarkable in itself, but that he’s also accomplishing to make the camera seem like an own acting person, who is part of these events, feels with the characters and sometimes is even “scared”, too, is absolutely magnificent and helps by dragging the audience into the movie. Further I want to consider that Berlin looks gorgeous in the early morning hours. This movie overthrows many fundamental aspects of film making. Even though the concept of single shot movie is an old one, no one has dared to do that when it comes to scenes with more and more complexities, like a bank robbery (as far as I know) and its thrilling after effects. The interaction between the characters is the best part of the film. Everything feels very natural and unforced, giving it a valid feel as if you are the one who was out partying all night long. The film is also backed by a simple, minimalist score that helps pass the time during certain sequences, but also adds to the level the film is at.
That leads me to my second point, that the film feels so incredible realistic caused by its great acting – especially Laia Costa and Frederick Lau have got a splendid chemistry – and its way of telling an heist-story. In one particular scene, we’re not seeing the heist per se, but Victoria waiting in the car for her friends coming back. So this flick shows another and much deeper perspective into the essence of robbing a bank. The film is never pigeon-holed into being “one-thing”. It’s bold and fierce and often sprawls in unexpected directions, all the while it beautifully maintains its stunning one-shot sequence, allowing us to experience every single moment over this 2 hour + period. Is all of it necessary? Maybe not, some scenes seem a little stretched, but hey, it’s part of the experience. From what I believe, the original screenplay was only about 12 pages long, meaning that the vast majority of dialogue is improvised. The camera always stays at Laia Costa‘s character, Victoria, so the viewer is forced setting up a closer emotional relationship to her, what clearly pays off in the third act, when there’s a terrific emotional outburst by Laia Costa, who well- deserved won “Best Actress” at the German Film Awards. There’s also a great climactic structure in the movie and you won’t believe what crazy things can happen in only 2 1/2 hours. All the other characters are also very well played and they’re much more worth mentioning considering that the most parts have been improvised by the actors. The not so good English language also helps by raising the realism and makes it much easier for the viewer to identify with Victoria, Sonne, Boxer, Blinker and Fuss. Every character gives another essence to the movie, without that this flick wouldn’t have worked so well. What’s bad about the film is that it starts off on slow note, especially for the first hour. The whole thriller suspense only start from about the midpoint on. The first hour has so many unnecessary scenes and even some scenes took up too much time. In the first hour the movie depicts some criminal delinquency but I don’t think the movie producers intended those to serve as a thriller ingredient. On the whole, ‘Victoria’ is an enjoyable German thriller which successfully manages to pull off its technically challenging production along with being immersive and superbly acted.
Director – Sebastian Schipper
Rated – R
Run Time – 138 minutes