By James Hancock October 12th, 2015
Every now and then a film comes along with a breathtaking technical achievement that forces the rest of the international filmmaking community to sit up and take notice. Victoria is one of those movies. Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria features an exhilarating story that runs for 138 minutes in one single take. If the movie were only about two people talking in a room I might not be impressed but this tale features two club sequences, a bank robbery, a high speed getaway, a shoot out with the police, multiple scenes requiring the lead actress Laia Costa to cry, and a show stopping piano solo by Costa that is worth the price of admission alone. Even more impressive than the single take is the fact that I was often so engaged by the story that I stopped noticing how cameraman Sturla Brandth Grøvlen was essentially required to perform the filmmaking equivalent of an Olympic Decathlon to capture this story all in one shot. From what I’ve read, director Sebastian Schipper only had a twelve page screenplay to work with and shot the film three separate times between 4:30 and 7:00 am in Berlin. I’m still processing just how difficult the planning and rehearsal of the film must have been. In the future, filmmakers who wish to maintain final cut over their projects now have a way to do so but only if they have the intestinal fortitude and courage to engage in this kind of ironman filmmaking. Apparently Sebastian Schipper’s investors were ensured by Schipper a version of the film with jump cuts if Schipper found it impossible to deliver on his single-take vision. That cut of the film was cut together as promised, but I hope it remains buried under a rock for all eternity.
All technical gymnastics aside, this movie works because of the performance by Laia Costa who plays Victoria. From the moment the movie opens on Victoria dancing alone in a club, I instantly fell in love with her. In spite of being irresistibly cute, she is clearly lonely as we see when she tries and fails to buy a drink for the bartender in the club. Later we learn that she is a Spaniard who has been working in a cafe in Berlin for three months ever since she was asked to leave a musical conservatory where she was studying piano. She has not made any friends which makes her an easy target for four lowlifes who convince her to come out partying with them as they leave the club. Victoria sees many clear warning signs that these guys are not to be trusted and that they regularly engage in dangerous, criminal behavior. But Victoria is strangely drawn to them in particular Sonne played by Frederick Lau. She enjoys flirting with him and calling his bluff on the endless stream of lies that he seems unable to stop telling with every sentence he speaks. But when one of Sonne’s friends becomes ill from drinking too much, Sonne begs Victoria to help him by driving a stolen car for them as they perform a job. Sonne’s friend Boxer owes a favor to a local gangster who protected Boxer while he was in prison and it is time to repay him. Before Victoria can process what she has agreed to do she finds herself hurled into a violent, extreme world unlike anything she has ever experienced before. The rest of the movie flies along at a breakneck pace until the film draws to a close. My one major grievance against the film that prevents me from totally embracing it is the characterization of Sonne and his friends. They are such idiotic incompetents that I can’t imagine voluntarily spending any more time in their company so I will not likely be watching this movie again anytime soon. But that is purely personal nitpicking on my part. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing this movie and I wholeheartedly urge anyone with a taste for edgy, unconventional cinema to see it at their earliest opportunity.
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