“Show me what you’ve got.”
134 minutes in length. One continuous shot. Three attempts to get it right. Traveling through the clubs and streets and rooftops of Berlin, zooming around in cars, traversing up and down ladders, entering and exiting location after location with efficient ease. Victoria is a heist movie, undeniably built around the unedited gimmick of zero cuts, and one having a heart deep inside all of the relentless staging and choreography. We forget that this was shot unbroken. The technique adds credence, that’s for sure, but without an emotional center the film would have quickly turned from the fabled to foible. A number of movies have attempted this insanely ambitious style, or at least pretended to do so (here’s looking at you, Birdman), and none have as successfully regaled its audience with personality and charm before equally reeling them in through structured chaos. Victoria, miraculously, sets a sterling example for similar films in the future and the possibility of wild aspirations finally meeting fruition.
New to Berlin from Madrid, Victoria (Laia Costa) doesn’t know a soul. She works at a cafe and speaks little to no German. A night out in a technicolored rave hall introduces her to four local young men, all seemingly blitzed out of their minds, assuring her that in Berlin “Molly is like beer.” The men assemble around her, a pack of wolves not looking to hunt or to strike, but merely to goad this impressionable and pretty young woman into keeping the party going until sunrise. Their group of four could just as effectively be called one, led by Sonne (Frederick Lau), a beguiling beau promising safety and laughs. Sonne flirts, Victoria accepts, and the films sharpens its blade before brandishing the delirium and negative effects that an otherwise simple decision can have on the outlook of the rest of your life. The fact that Victoria conveys this through the manner in which it is executed should tell you some, although not all, of what you need to know.
The marketing for Victoria doesn’t shy away from embracing its heist story influence, here specifically a small time bank robbery. But there is so much more to this gigantic little wonder of a film, deciphering the difference between truth and honesty, evolving the interactions between the uncouth lads of Berlin and the sophistication of Victoria’s Spanish background. This is one of the most realistic movies I’ve seen this year and demonstrates how characters can thrive in a film without necessarily having background. They are of the present, so utterly handcuffed by the here and the now, and because the narrative concedes and conveys that point from the start we don’t need to be concerned with their past or transpose them into the future. Accept Victoria for what it is and you will realize exactly what it should be considered: a revolutionary approach to a storied story.
What shouldn’t be said about this film’s technical department? The lighting, editing, sound mixing, production design. All top notch. Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen has shot a gorgeous picture, summoning beautiful images of happenstance through what had to have been meticulous planning. Nils Frahm adds one of the year’s best scores that pulses with as much livelihood as it does withdrawn reflection. Sebastian Schipper directed this enterprise completely unafraid of the problems his production might cause to fulfill his vision. This feels like early French New Wave. Truffaut’s criminal background in Shoot the Piano Player interlaced with the ill-fated romance of Godard’s Breathless, and Schipper’s seamless movie splices genres and emotions together without a bump or a crease.
Victoria is theater without the intermissions, presenting itself and its actors with an enormous undertaking. Lau looks straight off the waterfront, his tussled mop of hair and boyish demeanor like a ghost of 50’s cinema. The guy can act. As can Costa, a relatively new actress finally getting her chance to star. Her work is awards worthy, pulling off a physically demanding and emotionally draining performance shaped less by the constraints of one take and more by the masterful manipulation with which she controls her character. Sure, this may not have a deeper meaning than its surface level stunt, and never does it need it, because this is so immersive. Rather than look within we get to look all around its far reaching parts. The story’s realism is 3D taking place in a two-dimensional world. Victoria provides the experience of a summer’s afternoon boat ride: imbibing in the excess, submitting to the heat, and embracing the foreseeable burn. It’ll make you feel alive.
“I’m never scared.”
Rating: 5 out of 5