Words by Dorian Hayward
With multiple at film festivals screenings across the world (from Berlin, Toronto, Austin and Tokyo) as well as a handful of limited theatrical releases through out 2015, German director Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria slid under the radar for most, finding it’s place as a common contender amongst countless publications on the, “Most Underappreciated Films of 2015” lists. The scattered group of critics and film junkies who did happen to see it lauded it as one of the most astonishing cinematic experiences of 2015 with titles like “exhilarating”, “inventive” and even “masterpiece”. This being components of one massive “drop everything and see this movie” consensus. Given that the events of the film are told in one loooooong 2.3ish hour take (seriously, not a single cut c.o. Norwegian cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovlen), this film has been most frequently compared to Alejandro G. Inarritu’s 2014 powerhouse Birdman, to the point where their main marketing tagline reads “One City. One Night. One Take.” and Birdman is mentioned in the first listed critical excerpt on the DVD case.
With a gimmick so obvious, one browsing any Target “New Release” section would either dismiss it entirely or possible vaguely read the back cover. Objective to the unnoteworthy taglines and vapidly obvious comparisons, this film is a potently compelling thriller that wears its technical prowess as means to tell a genuinely engaging and hyperreal story about a young and misplaced woman from Spain named Victoria (played by the everexpressive Laia Costa) who stumbles into the trappings of an underground crime operation set against the smokey nightlife of metro Berlin.
Three months into working a menial job at a cafe with barely a means of escapism, Victoria meets a group of loudmouthed and at times lecherous men on her way out of a nightclub who call themselves Sonne (Frederick Lau), Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit) and Fuss (Max Mauff). The collective invite her to join them in their latenight jaunt and she reluctantly takes the backseat on their outing. They put her up to stealing alcohol from a convenient store and smoking marijuana on the roof of an apartment building among other casually hybristic behavior. For the first time since her new life began in Berlin, Victoria is able to connect with and wellacquaint herself with these men as they all drunkenly exchange personal notes of their lives. After almost flawlessly performing the Mephisto Waltz on her cafe’s lobby piano, she reveals to Sonne that she has dedicated her entire life to working toward her dream of being a renowned concert pianist, only for her dream to be shattered by a music instructor telling her that she was nothing more than another hopeful in a mass of novices who would never see success.
At this point Victoria’s night out begins to come to a close until she is put up to driving the men to an unknown destination by the insistence of Boxer. It is from here that the film shifts from a sentimental telling of mild debauchery, realtime romance and unexpected companionship to a seamlessly elevating, anxiety ridden, story that is ,so palpable I could touch it, headrush of a film all while never dehumanizing its characters. The final cut of Victoria was finished in three attempts and features masterful and mostly adlibbed performances, impossibly tight pacing, an infectious and never manipulative score (done by ambient artist Nils Frahm) and an impressively believable presentation of its story. Finding subtle ways to firmly grip you with almost never allowing the illusion to break, Victoria stands tall as a confident piece of excellent filmmaking and storytelling.
Photographs courtesy of:
Wild Bunch Germany