A pretty young woman (Laia Costa) from Barcelona goes out clubbing, alone, at a local Berlin night spot. She dances hard then heads home for a few hours sleep before she opens the café where she works. On the way out she meets four amiable drunk guys out to celebrate one of their number’s birthday. She joins the jolly group and all is well as they show her their Berlin. Until, that is, one gets an urgent phone call and they have to settle a debt right now! She joins the group in their shady mission, not knowing it will be an adventure gone terribly wrong for “Victoria.”
Director Sebastian Schipper, who also co-writes the screenplay with Olivia Neergaard-Holm, comes up with a unique idea. The entirety of “Victoria” is done in one continuous (138 minute) take by cinematographer Sturia Brandth Grovlen. Knowing this at the start of the film – which takes place in extreme out of focus close-up in a disco with loud, driving techno pop playing – could have been more than just distracting, but is not.
Victoria meets the four tipsy Berliners outside the club – they were just thrown out for rowdiness – and one, Sonne (Frederick Lau), takes a liking to the pretty Spaniard, as she does him. He promises, with his friends, Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit) and Fuss (Max Mauff), to show her the real Berlin and they set off for a night of carousing.
All is well until Boxer gets a phone call from the Boss, who demands that he return a favor – the Boss protected Boxer while in prison – and do something that is blatantly illegal: armed robbery of a private bank. The caper calls for all four guys but Fuss, celebrating his birthday, is passed out and out of the running. Victoria, enjoying her adventure, volunteers to take Fuss’s place as the getaway driver. This decision is the catalyst that will change her life forever.
Going into “Victoria” knowing about the one-take techniques, I had expectations of being really annoyed by the technique. Instead, any irritation quickly dissipated as Victoria’s adventure unfolds and the series of bad decisions escalate, especially Victoria’s. The cast does a solid job in bringing their inebriated characters to life as they go about doing their petty crimes – that is, if car theft is petty – and continuing their drunken revelries.
Some may call “Victoria” an experimental film. But, only the one-shot technique (which must have been a devil to pull off) is the experiment (which, here, works). The story itself is along conventional lines with a night of carousing going seriously bad. This gives the viewer the chance to sympathize with the characters as they make bad decisions – you want to shout, often times, “don’t do it!”
“Victoria” has a lot going for it with its likable cast (except for the Boss), ever changing story and a flowing camera that stays with the action, making us participants in events and investing in the characters. I give it a B(1/4?).
A single woman from Madrid dances in a Berlin club. As she leaves, Sonne (Frederick Lau, "A Coffee in Berlin") and his buddies Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit, "Mustang") and Fuß (Max Mauff, "Absurdistan," "The Reader") begin to flirt, hoping to convince her to stay out a little longer despite the late hour. The group makes a little mischief, bonding quickly, but when Boxer gets a call demanding he repay a prison debt right then and there, the whole world changes for "Victoria."
Everyone who was awestruck by "Birdman's" 'single' take should be required to see this film, which cowriter (with Olivia Neergaard-Holm and Eike Frederik Schulz)/director Sebastian Schipper and his cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen began shooting at 4:30 a.m. and wrapped at 6:48 the same morning as six assistant directors coordinated moving the actors and 150 extras through 22 locations in real time. It is an incredible feat for all involved, the camerawork immersing us so completely within the action we forget about the technical skill and stamina required to achieve it.
At first things seem to meander so much we wonder just how much more everyday life we can remain interested in for almost two and a half hours. We're a bit concerned for Victoria (Laia Costa), unsure what these guys, who clearly are attempting to steal the car they've invited her to join them in, are up to. But there is a spark between her and Sonne and after she participates in stealing some beers from a sleeping shop owner we begin to relax as they playfully call her out on her crime. They gather on a rooftop, where the lads caution her to tone down her exuberance lest they call attention to themselves. When she finally has to leave to open a cafe, Sonne accompanies her, and we learn about her broken dream of becoming a concert pianist. Then Sonne gets Boxer's call and he arrives minutes later, agitated. He owes Andi (André Hennicke, "Downfall"), the man who provided him prison protection, a job and had promised three accomplices. Birthday boy Fuß is too drunk. What to do?
Victoria thinks it will be no big deal to be their driver, as they promise they'll have her back at the cafe in half an hour. With no idea what she's in for, she drives them to a parking garage where Andi is surrounded by armed men. They're too hit a bank before opening time, when a customer is scheduled to retrieve 50K Euros from the vault. Sonne tries to dissuade her, but Victoria insists on following through.
The robbery serves as the story's midpoint, the remaining hour taken by its aftermath. Schipper takes our expectations and upends them not once, but twice. Underneath the surface, one can glean a lot about German society today, where immigrants and first generation Germans are trying to assimilate. On its most basic level, the film is about the adrenaline rush of trying to grab the brass ring.
The entire cast is incredible, each staying completely in character through hard core action scenes, quiet emotional moments and interludes of sheer panic. Laia Costa has her breakthrough role here, the young, open-faced woman selling us entirely on Victoria's essential goodness throughout her impulsive choices. As one of those, Lau also navigates a complex arc, proving one shouldn't always go by initial impressions. As the ex-con, Rogowski has a touching scene explaining to Victoria that he's not a bad guy while the amusing Yigit turns Blinker into the group's biggest wild card. They make a combustible combination.
"Victoria's" complex technical production is there to serve its story, not shout 'look at me!' It takes us along on a real time wild ride but Schipper's got more on his mind than visceral thrills.
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