2015, NR, 138 min. Directed by Sebastian Schipper. Starring Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 30, 2015
The German film Victoria gives off a lustrous intensity. Filmed all in one take in pre-dawn Berlin, the film is a technical marvel inset with small jewels. No mere stunt this single shot that lasts 138 minutes, the technique helps to infuse Victoria with a devastating sense of how easily one thing elides into the next. Little choices all along the way precipitate unforeseen consequences, and once the title character allows herself to get swept along in the action, the tide can no longer be turned. In its virtuosity, subject matter, and country of origin, Victoria calls to mind Run Lola Run. It comes as little surprise then that director Sebastian Schipper, who is also an actor, had a small role in Lola.
Victoria is certainly not the first, or only, movie to attempt filming in entirely one take, but is one of the few that has not cheated the principle. Even Hitchcock’s Rope and last year’s Oscar-winner Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) pulled some deft maneuvers to create the illusion of filming all in one take. Aleksandr Sokurov’s 2002 documentary Russian Ark created an elegant one-shot tour of the Hermitage Museum, but Victoria glides through the night in service of a story. Granted, Victoria’s story is somewhat slight, and the single-take technique makes for some less-than-enthralling screen moments as the characters move between one location and the next, but overall, the film lures us into its action like a fish gripped on a hook.
Spanish actress Laia Costa, who plays Victoria, is also essential to the film’s allure. She is mesmerizing to watch, and the character’s initial naivete becomes a little more understandable when we see that German is an acquired language, making some nuances harder for her to fully grasp. We first encounter Victoria dancing feverishly in a club, and then engaging with four guys loitering outside the establishment when she leaves around 4am. One of them, Sonne (Lau), seems particularly interested in her, and she hangs with the guys until they have to leave to meet with someone about a job. Things turn toward the criminal pretty quickly, then furtive and violent. Yet, interestingly, the crime itself happens offscreen while the camera sticks with Victoria, who is driving the getaway car. More consequential events ensue, but before the film reaches its end you most probably will have fallen in love with Victoria and be ready to pin a medal of heroism on the chest of cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, who won the Silver Bear for outstanding artistic contribution at the Berlin Film Festival.