Victoria (2015)

Review #1,240

Director:  Sebastian Schipper
Cast:  Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski
Plot:  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.

Genre:  Drama / Crime / Thriller
Awards:  Won Silver Bear for Best Cinematography (Berlin).
Runtime:  138min
Rating:  M18 for coarse language and brief nudity.
International Sales:  The Match Factory

Aleksandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark (2002) was probably the most famous example of a film entirely shot in a long take without any cuts… until Victoria.  Running at 138 minutes long, Victoria is almost a good forty minutes lengthier than Sokurov’s work, but that shouldn’t discount the latter as officially defeated.   Filmmaking is not the Olympics, and as a matter of fact, Victoria couldn’t have been more different than Russian Ark.  One is elegant, stately and pseudo-historical.  The other is gritty, raw and politically current. 

Directed by Sebastian Schipper, whose name I frankly haven’t heard of, Victoria tells the story of a young Spanish woman who flirts with a local Berliner after a night out clubbing.  So she, Victoria (Laia Costa), joins him, Sonne (Frederick Lau), and his drinking buddies on a lazy post-midnight saunter in the quiet streets. 

Schipper’s camera tails the group in real-time as the actors improvise their lines, movements and expressions.  The performances are incredibly natural, though you probably wouldn’t notice it in the first, say, twenty minutes… because you would be busy checking out the Steadicam work. 

After a while of simultaneously admiring such technically astounding work and entertaining evil thoughts of what-ifs (well, what if the Steadicam operator tripped and fell?  And should he poo in his pants if he had a tummy ache?), I was sucked into the intimacy and intensity of the drama.  How it seems to have been accomplished with effortless ease (wait till you read about some of the behind-the-scenes) adds to the whole cinematic experience. 

Through the course of the film, we witness how in just two hours the fate of Victoria would change drastically as she is propelled into unchartered territory.  Victoria takes the shape of a movie with two halves, with the latter half turning into a heist film.  There are moments of unexpected suspense, but it is the emotional, human ones that remain unforgettable, particularly in the final twenty minutes. 

At its core, Victoria is not so much about a group of misfits who operate at the fringes of society, clamouring for some higher purpose to guide them (in this case they are forced to commit a crime), but the consequences of the lack of social and political will to address youth delinquency.  The saddest part is not how their actions cause societal harm, but how so little time they have to find meaning to life.

Verdict:  This 138-minute long take wonder is technically astounding, but more importantly, draws you into the intimacy of the drama and performances with effortless ease. 


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