First Look Review: Victoria

★★★☆☆ – Technically brilliant, but can be found wanting in content, Victoria is a feat of cinematography that needs just one more push to reach its potential.

Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria, a one shot wonder set in the streets of Berlin, is one of the rare finds in film that manages to entwine both style and substance – creating that long sought after ‘experience’ that so many directors covet. Whilst that feels somewhat cliche to say; the fluidity of shot and pace of the film feels like you are invited to delve into Berlin-after-dark from the outset, joining the titular character and her rag-tag group of friends as they embark on various illegal adventures throughout pre-dawn Berlin. Whilst the film itself holds some flaws from committing to the concept, the overall outcome is an impressive one – managing to string an interesting (if not a little unbelievable) story into a feat of cinematography. Technically, it is a joy to watch – but the content of the film doesn’t quite match up to the heady heights of its intent.

The plot revolves around the playful Victoria (Laia Costa), a Spanish woman in Germany living alone, unable to speak the language, and working in a cafe for next to no money. It’s 4am in a grungy underground club and she can’t seem to make any connection to the people around her – that is, until the instantly infatuated Sonne (Frederick Lau) latches onto her and introduces her to his rowdy ‘brothers’; taking her on a winding tour of the darkened streets of Germany to steal beer and chat in lawn chairs on a restricted rooftop terrace. Meeting Boxer (Franz Rogowski), a thuggish character repenting for his time in prison, Blinker (Burak Yigit), another rogue out to have fun for the evening, and Fuss (Max Mauff), too drunk to do or say much for most of the film – the wheels of the plot are set into motion; and the outlandishly naive Victoria signs up to become a get away driver for a very sketchy bank robbery to clear Boxer’s debt. Unknown to her initially due to the language barrier, she still manages to see the deal through to the end – until havoc is unleashed upon completion of the heist.

Victoria won half of the awards it was nominated for (a solid 13 out of 26), and has duly been given the respect it deserves for such innovative filmmaking. Shot in one long take in just over two hours, Schipper utilised a trial and error style of filming – with improvisation being key across the three attempts it took to film successfully. This does, however, provide some set backs when it comes to the actual content of the film – the main one being editing; which would’ve served well in a fair few places across the 2 hours 13 minutes of story. This would change the very essence of what Victoria is trying to be though, so is rightly left out – but it can’t be helped to think if we really need to see everything that is given to us throughout the movie, and does answer the question of why all films aren’t shot in real time.

The factor of real-time is then another difficult aspect to overcome, with Victoria facing this by drawing on some far-fetched plot decisions to keep the motion of the film and interest in its developments high throughout. The events of the heist and the aftermath are where a suspense of disbelief really needs to be employed – which wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t a film trying to play on the reality of time, and engaging us with a representation of true and real people and the environments they inhabit.

With these criticisms being said, the film itself really is an interesting one to watch – not only for the one-shot novelty, but for its heartfelt commitment to creating character (even if they are put to their paces in preposterous plot points). The sensitive relationship between Victoria and Frederick slowly and delicately unfolding is a pleasure to watch – two strangers being thrown together by chance and growing to become enamored by each other, amidst a whirlwind of chaotic events isn’t an original idea; but it’s one that is presented in such a way that it feels new and exciting to watch, which is a hard thing to do.

All of the film’s actors superbly portray the roles they are given. Even the camera man (as the invisible character the audience are expected to play within the piece) fills his role so unintrusively and in such an aqueous manner that we never question his presence (not that he is ever seen; just if this had been done badly any submersion into the plot would have been totally lost). Victoria also has an excellent sense of pacing as it goes on, again thanks to its cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, with the beginning feeling slightly long and arduous – but it grows into its drama as it moves along. There is a clear switch in tone that is deftly executed; bringing us from the soft and silly exploits of the troupe into serious, life-threatening danger – bringing with it a sense of panic and intensity that is not often exacted so neatly and subconsciously.

Overall, Victoria is a film for your senses, mixing elements of romance, thriller and dizzying cameramanship to create something unique and beautiful to watch. Whilst it does have issues and it can be criticized for small points – the overall effect is not something to belittle; and is still a film that can be watched and enjoyed without drawing negativity from. With character, visuals and a sensitive touch of music all tying together to create something special – with one extra push it could be something amazing – though it is definitely worth a watch in the mean time.

Victoria (2015), directed by Sebastian Schipper, will be released in the UK on 1st April by Curzon Artificial Eye. Certificate 15. 

This article was originally posted to The Edge.
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