Victoria takes the concept of cinema verite to all new levels. Because while many films aim for a documentary style Victoria is a two plus hour film that was accomplished in one single take. Search as you may there are very few moments you can speculate as to whether or not there is a cut there. And, according to those involved, there are none. Indeed the film took three attempts to get right and was only on the third that director Sebastian Schipper finally got it to all come together. The results are, quite simply, staggering.
Victoria (Laia Costa) is a Spanish girl living alone in Berlin and feeling the isolation of the city. Leaving a club she meets Sonne (Frederick Lau) and his friends Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit) and Fuss (Max Mauff). The group of lads take Victoria under their wing and show her a side to Berlin she’s never seen before. As the night progresses Boxer’s criminal past comes back to haunt him and Victoria finds herself in a progressions of situations spiralling rapidly out of control.
At over two hours there are moments in Victoria, especially early on, in which you wonder where the film is going. But there is a key moment around the midpoint which perfectly sums up how and why Victoria manages to find herself caught up in the underworld of Berlin. Confiding in Sonne Victoria reveals that she is a musical protege, a pianist who has spent her entire life aiming for something that only now she knows might not be obtainable. Sonne and his friends aren’t a means of escapism but rather companionship and a pseudo family she so desperately craves.
It delicately explains why Victoria makes a series of decisions that you might otherwise judge her for. And yet, despite chaos frequently erupting around here Victoria is often the calm in the middle of a storm. She is the very definition of keeping her head while all around her are losing theirs.
Schipper’s film is wonderfully immersive. For the most part we are a fly on the wall, sticking closely to this group of characters and never leaving Victoria’s side. But he peppers the film with moments of musical interlude. A scene after a major event sees the gang go back to the club where they first met and a tranquil piece of music elevates us to to experience the euphoria they feel in that moment. This combined with languid, drifting close-ups make Victoria utterly hypnotic.
In the lead role Costa is mesmerizing. To begin with you suspect she might be a shrinking violet but she’s never shy in coming forward. Her relationship with Sonne is a particular highlight in allowing Costa to slowly reveal who she is beneath her pixie smile. It would have been easy for both Schipper and Costa to have Victoria descend into either a scream queen or a tough as old boots criminal but instead they conjure a delicacy that, thanks to Costa’s less-is-more performance, is believable and original.
An incredibly kinetic, exhilarating and immersive film Victoria lives long in the memory.