From loathing to liking … I can’t recall too many movies I have seen where my predilection has swung so appreciably. But that was the case with Victoria, slow burn material shot in point of view style (think extensive use of hand held camera) from the perspective of the lead character. So, patience is ultimately rewarded.
Victoria (played by Laia Costa) is a young Spanish woman who has only been in Berlin, where the film is set, for three months. She meets four local guys outside a nightclub after one in particular, Sonne (Frederick Lau), tries to pick her up. The quartet – each of whom is rough around the edges – wasn’t let in because they didn’t have enough money. It is the early morning and not too many hours before Victoria is due to open the café where she works. The blokes suggest they will show her a good time and the real nature of the city, and she is happy enough to go along with the idea. Mind you, God knows why because anyone can tell the boys are a bunch of drop kicks who appear to have little if any meaning in their lives. And surprise, surprise that is how it turns out.
You see, one of them, Boxer (Franz Rogowski), has been in jail a few times and while in there secured protection. Now the gangster who protected him wants pay back. It turns out that Victoria gets far more than she bargained for when she first hooked up with the lads.
What a remarkable film! You get the impression that Victoria has always been a good girl (you learn later in the film just how talented she is), someone who has followed all the rules and studied hard. But even with that she has not achieved what she set out to and the situation is now rife for her to go in another direction, not by setting out to do so, simply by virtue of circumstance.
Victoria, the movie, took forever to get going. After the first half hour or so I would have been delighted to have left. My disdain started with the opening sequence, with this piercing, horrible white strobe lighting on a dance floor. But fortunately I persisted and it was worth it in the end.
Believe it or not, the film is shot in a single take – all two hours 14 minutes of it. As director and co-writer Sebastian Schipper says, there are no cheap tricks and no expensive ones either. On April 27th, 2014 the camera started rolling a little after 4:30am in a club the filmmakers had built and two and a quarter hours later, after he and the cast and crew had run, walked and climbed through 22 locations, they wrapped. Apparently the cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovlen looked like he had just run a marathon. There was no script as such, although 12 pages had been written detailing scenes, locations and the general actions of the characters. Everything else – especially the dialogue – was improvised.
Without spoiling the story, Schipper thought about a crime he would never commit but clearly wanted to enter that mindset – one that was dark and full of fear. He wanted to see what that would be like and this film was his way of satiating that desire.
Victoria shakes out an hour before and in the hour after a pivotal event. The picture makes us – the audience – feel like we are there, present with the characters all the way. In other words it is a picture I would call immersive and “experiential”. Moods shift time and again, from sheer recklessness to playfulness, through anger and hatred, to panic, then exhilaration and passion, before distress and dread take over. And still there is more. What a ride, what a journey the characters and we are put through.
While it is, especially at first, a real test of endurance, Victoria fortunately becomes far more powerful and intense. Rated MA, it scores a 7½ out of 10.
Director: Sebastian Schipper
Cast: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski
Release Date: 10 March 2016 (limited)
Rating: MA 15+
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television