by Liana Vardi
Victoria has already won eleven awards for German director Sebastian Schipper, cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, and the two lead actors Laia Costa and Frederic Lau. Reviews have everywhere been stunning and the film was quickly snapped up by international distributors. The gimmick, if one wishes to call it that, is that it was shot in a single take (at 22 locations), so what unfold over 137 minutes occurs in real time. There were a couple of trial runs and the actors rehearsed their parts for two months, but the last take was neither cut nor edited (except for the insertion of the musical score) and the wager has clearly paid off. The actors interact in broken English and improvised the dialogue, reinforcing the sense of immediacy. The film suddenly swings from good-natured joshing to high-level tension. You don’t see it coming but it’s made utterly plausible. The film is about bluster and daring, about a gang of unemployed friends in their twenties, about a slightly older woman who has been compelled to veer off her expected career path and has come from Madrid to Berlin to see what the future might hold. For the moment she is working at a coffee shop that she opens every morning at seven, and is ready for adventure. Working-class and middle-class backgrounds play a role. If the guys can operate in the margins, it is Victoria who knows how to handle the mainstream.
As the film opens, Victoria is dancing and downing the vodkas in the wee hours at a Berlin bar. As she heads off on her bicycle, she is stopped by a young man she had seen inside, who introduces himself as Sonne and his buddies as Fuss, Blinker and Boxer. It is Blinker’s birthday and they still want to celebrate. Sonne invites her to join them in “his” car, for which he apparently lacks the key. His swagger is charming, and, while she sees through it, she enjoys the banter enough to be willing to go along. As the gang is scared off by an irate resident, she follows on her bike, Sonne in tow. The two of them stop to steal some beers (the grocery store clerk is fast asleep). The lark amuses her and she doesn’t need much persuading to follow them to “their roof.” They have no right to be there but it is their regular hangout. The guys seem harmless, at times awkward with her, turning to German for mutual reassurance, but she discovers that Boxer served time in jail. She and the lads continue their joshing and guzzling, and Victoria leans over the edge to look at the street below, making Sonne nervous. They go back to the bar to drink and dance some more, when Boxer gets a call from the inmate who protected him in prison, asking him “for a favor.” They have to get to a location where all will be explained. Since the birthday boy has passed out, Victoria offers to drive them there. The mood changes abruptly as they find themselves in a garage facing a gang of hardened criminals. They are ordered to rob a bank, and although they argue and plead, no is not an answer. The heist is successful but the car they have stolen stalls, meaning that they get away later than expected and are pursued by the police. Two are shot and Victoria and Sonne must now run for their lives.
I saw the film without knowing much about it, except that it was highly recommended. I was not disappointed and sat on the edge of my seat for much of the second half. Its Indie look should not deceive you: it is a slick and perfectly oiled machine, even if not in the Hollywood style. Victoria opens at the North Park on Friday (11/6). Forget the blockbusters: this is the film to see.
Watch the trailer for Victoria
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