Since the release of Victoria on the festival circuit, it has become a critical darling because of its technical ambition – a movie that was made in one continuous shot for the run-time of two hours and 10 minutes. It is now out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK.
Victoria (Laia Costa) is a young Spanish woman new to Berlin. After a night of partying she meets four local men, Sonne (Frederick Lau), Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Fuss (Max Mauff) and Blinker (Burak Yigit) and they promise to show her the real Berlin. After a fun time with the men, Victoria ends up being sucked into the local underworld.
Unlike other movies that were shot to look like one continuous shot i.e. Rope and Birdman, Victoria was shot in one long go – there were no edits, hidden cuts or jumps in time. Director Sebastian Schipper and his cast and crew shot the movie in the early hours of 27 April 2014 – it took three attempts for it the filmmakers to make Victoria. This was extremely risky because of the logistics that were required, making things like lighting from exteriors to interiors and all the choreography that would have been required. The script for Victoria was only 12 pages long, so the actors had to improvise most of the movie and it was shot in real-time. Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen deserves the awards he received for his work.
Victoria is an audience surrogate – she is an outsider to both the criminal world and Germany as a whole. She goes from cafe worker to bank robber in less than two hours. She is unable to speak German, and half the movie is English – this disqualified the movie from being nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. When people around Victoria speak in German, she can only understand what’s going on by the tone of voice and the body language of the people around her.
Due to the filming style used for the movie the actors gave raw performance throughout Victoria. It made the movie more naturalistic because the actors had to keep going, they couldn’t do a retake. Costa was excellent in the lead role going from dancing young woman in the club (in a great opening shot), letting out her own wild side when with the men and showing her pain and panic when drawn into the criminal world. When she is upset or panicked it felt real as tears, sweat and slip stream from her face.
The main German actors were strong in their roles, particularly Lau as Sonne, who gets the most characterization of the four while Rogowski was good in the role as the more volatile Boxer. Yigit and Mauff as Fuss and Blinker were more like background characters, especially Fuss who was the less memorable. The four were perfect at playing four drunken dicks because it was true to life as they egg each other on, do stupid acts and pretend to be innocent when bystanders or the police come by. It sadly reminded me of some events in my past.
It takes 50 minutes for the crime plot in Victoria kick in. It gives the movie a certain sense of realism and it allows us to get know the characters, but it was not the interesting viewing as characters go from place to place. It too detailed for its own good. When the crime part of the movie does happen it is an intense thriller as the characters have to drive around Berlin, meet crime lords and do the bank job with Victoria going in over her head. There is a shootout sequence that is frantic and chaotic, filled with shaky-cam. This is acceptable because of the continuous shooting style, and we are seeing the action from Victoria’s eyes – a woman out of her depth.
Despite the realistic look and time frame, there is an issue with Victoria plausibility. We see a woman willing to hang around with men who shoplift and steal cars and, out of desperation, the men ask Victoria to help them – bringing her into danger. It requires a big suspension of disbelief.
Victoria is a technical marvel and deserving of the praise it has received for its cinematography. Costa was fantastic in the lead role, but it does suffer its slow first 50 minutes and ridiculous plotting considering it was striving to be realistic.