Directed by: Sebastian Schipper.
Written by: Olivia Neergaard-Holm & Sebastian Schipper & Eike Frederik Schulz.
Starring: Laia Costa (Victoria), Frederick Lau (Sonne), Franz Rogowski (Boxer), Burak Yigit (Blinker), Max Mauff (Fuß).
It would be easy to dismiss Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria as a gimmick movie – which has always struck me as a rather lazy complaint, but has been applied to movies like Memento or Boyhood, and could be to this film as well. Victoria is a 134 minute movie, shot entirely in one take – and not like a film like Birdman, which is an edited film that is made to look like it was done in one film, Victoria really is one shot for 134 minutes. You can choose to see this as a stunt if you want to – you wouldn’t even really be wrong in doing so. But the decision to make this movie entirely in one shot works brilliantly for the film – it gives the film a propulsive energy, places us directly beside the main character for the entire running time, as she – and those around her – fall deeper and deeper into their bad decisions. The story of the movie is nothing new – it’s good, and well handled, but you know where it’s going before the characters do. Yet the style of the film elevates the whole film – and makes it one of the most entertaining films of the year.
The film opens with a shot of Victoria (Laia Costa) dancing, alone, in a Berlin nightclub. Eventually we will learn that she is from Spain, has been in Berlin only a few months, and has virtually no friends. All of this explains why, as she leaves the club, and meets four drunken, young German men, she is a little friendlier than perhaps it is wise to be when you’re a woman by yourself in the middle of the night. But then men –especially Sonne (Frederick Lau) seem so nice and friendly – he flirts with her, and she flirts back. His friends, the bald Boxer (Franz Rogowski), the rambuckous Blinker (Burak Yigiy) and the birthday boy Fus (Max Mauff), who is pretty much ready to collapse at any minute, are friendly too. The quintet leave the club, and wander around the streets, talking laughing, getting a few beers, and heading up to the roof of an apartment building;. By this point it’s getting really late – too late in fact for Victoria to head home and sleep before she has to be back and open the café she works in at 7 am. Sonne takes her over to the café, and they laugh and flirt some more – they agree to meet again. It’s at this point – roughly half way through – that the movie takes a turn. The men need help with something they are very vague about – and they need it right now. Victoria makes the mistake of agreeing to help them – and it’s the first of many, many mistakes they will make in the last half of the film.
Personally, I prefer the second half of the film to the first. The first half is a kind of dreamy, drunken Before Sunset, with two young people (and some well-meaning friends) getting to know each other, laughing, flirting and having a good time. The conversation isn’t as deep as Before Midnight to be sure, but then most drunken 20-somethings meeting for the first time wouldn’t be. The first half of the film is intoxicating, and grips you from that first scene where Victoria is carefree, dancing, and pulling her hair back. It’s lightweight entertainment, done with precision and skill – and a great performance by Laia Costa, who grounds the whole thing.
The second half of the movie is a crime thriller – and director Sebastian Schipper really ratchets up the pace and moves at breakneck speed through a heist and its bloody aftermath. Again, this part of the film is exciting and tense, and the constantly moving camera only heightens this feeling even more. I did get slightly annoyed during this part – only slightly though – since the criminals are a little too dumb to be believe, even for dumb, inexperienced criminals – as they do practically everything wrong. To be fair to the movie, it knows this, which is why everything goes to shit pretty much immediately.
So yes, you could complain that Victoria is a gimmick movie if you want to. But it’s an ineffective gimmick – and director Sebastian Schipper finds a perfect story to tell in this manner, and the cinematography by Sturla Brandth Grøvlen is every bit as good as the Oscar winning work by Emmanuel Lubezki in Birdman. Victoria is exciting filmmaking. I hope Schipper does something different next time – just to prove he can – and that Costa gets more work, because she is fantastic in this – keeping the whole film grounded even as it gets more outlandish. But for know, they’ve crafted a highly entertaining film – and something not quite like anything else.