Victoria is a German movie from 2015 about a young Spanish woman (Piercing’s Laia Costa) who hooks up with a quartet of “real Berliners” with funny names—Sonne, Boxer, Blinker, and Fuss. They meet at a rave and wind up walking the streets late into the night, hanging out on an apartment building’s rooftop for a while before things take a turn for the worse. For some reason we’re always expecting things to take a turn for the worse in Victoria, probably because we wouldn’t expect a young woman, even a party girl like Victoria, to hang out with four inebriated strangers she just met. Will the friendly men wind up assaulting her? Will she turn the tables on them? Either way, we’re on edge. The dialogue seems improvised—that’s because it is—and everything feels very casual and a little bit removed. There’s no real urgency to any of this, at least not immediately, and the conversations are mostly trite and unfulfilling, i.e., realistic. But the longer it goes on, the less pedestrian it becomes. The thing that really holds our attention, however, is the camerawork, a single unbroken take of some 138 minutes, which is quite an achievement. Sure, similar feats have been done before—Birdman, Russian Ark, the recent Long Day’s Journey Into Night—but here it grabs us early on and pulls us into the story, much as Victoria herself is pulled into the unfolding drama which slowly builds in intensity once we realize these men have an unpleasant job to do, a debt to repay, and they’re dragging Victoria along with them. Director Sebastian Schipper orchestrates this real-time night on the town with true dexterity; Sturla Brandth Grøvlen is his actual camera operator, and he deserves credit for both his creativity and stamina. The one-take affair never feels awkward or contrived; Grøvlen’s camera circles and weaves, follows at a distance, comes in close when emotions warrant it, goes up and down stairs, dances frenetically, cycles in and out… and it never once feels like a gimmick or an unwanted presence. Without a doubt it’s a technique that enhances the drama one hundredfold. “One City. One Night. One Take” boasts the film’s punchy tagline. Victoria is also One Wow.
(c) 2019 David N. Butterworth