When you see a great foreign-language film, you can often sense the Hollywood executive leering over it. It can be both a welcoming and alienating thought upon viewing, and it would be the case for Victoria were it not for its insanely striking aesthetic. Many films use the long-take to wondrous effect, and you can see hundreds of film articles that explore the abilities of Haneke, Thomas Anderson, Scorsese and Iñárritu. Victoria pushes the boundaries completely; a 134 minute take that has surely captured the attention of Hollywood, and should for every film fan.
We follow the eponymous Victoria, a kind-hearted Spaniard living in Berlin. At the start she is letting her hair down, bouncing around to dubstep in an underground club. Moving outside she starts chatting to a group of men, who invite her out for an after-party, which eventually descends into a criminal partnership. If the synopsis sounds as though events unravel quickly and unrealistically, you’d be wrong. You could argue that Victoria is happily submissive to the charms of the guys, but 21st century people live their lives, attracted to the rush of uncertainty. At least that’s how we are supposed to take to the narrative. Based on the interactions you may or may not have had over yours years out, Victoria either seems like a very familiar personality, or is someone you’ve never met or heard of. This is the issue that may prevent Victoria from being a universal cult favourite.
For those supporting the film’s efforts, it is every bit as enthralling as people have said. Perhaps the best thing about the film is not what is technically achieved, but how realistic the characters appear. Laia Costa is a revelation, a beautifully assured actress who takes us on a journey we become so engaged with. As she begins to fall for the chatty Sonne (a wonderful Frederick Lau) we see the most subtle shifts in smiles or discourse, continually changing right up until the end. It is a film of movement and momentum, and seeing Victoria evolve over the two hours is a fascinating piece of entertainment. A lot of the film is improvised in terms of dialogue (Lord knows they couldn’t wing it for some of the technical aspects), and the flow of conversation is as natural as the direction.
Sebastian Schipper directs this film masterfully; to control so much for an extensive period of time is superbly skilful. Most directors will have chance to cut, regroup themselves and the crew, and attempt the shot a couple of times over. Schipper’s effort, in regard to this, along with his DP, Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (who deservedly gets first billing once the credits roll), should be highly praised. This film took three attempts to shoot, and to imagine the frustration when something went awry, and to see the final outcome that is unforgettable, makes you appreciate this dedication to the cinematic form.
As the action amps up, the camera snakes through the bustle and many will become disorientated. For those okay with the speed, it’ll be a nail-biting series of sequences. You can often see snippets of detail that would otherwise go unnoticed with other DPs, but Grøvlen is a clearly an expert. He knows how to control that camera as if it were an extension of himself. There is nothing more exhilarating for a film fanatic than seeing this craft remarkably in operation.
Not everyone will find a relatable element in the film, as its a youthful, anarchic thriller. However, it is also a romantic and innocent look at joie de vivre. The narrative’s development from Before Sunrise-esque romance, to a vérité-infused heist thriller is so unique, it’s bound to have its admirers and critics. One thing, above all else, is that the film should not be missed.