It took director Sebastian Schipper two years to get his latest film Victoria accepted at any film festivals. Cast and director took to the streets of Berlin three times to film their electric vision in just one miraculous shot. Settling on the third version, Schipper brought his masterpiece to the world. A world who proved unprepared, with many festivals simply refusing to believe he had indeed filmed Victoria in one endless shot. At nearly two and a half hours long, the film is a staggering achievement which, despite decline in quality in its closing quarter, grips you and shakes you as its drama escalates and the stakes rise. Victoria is embracing a new city. We first meet her in an underground Berlin club, alone and content. Even after a mere few minutes in Victoria’s company, we acknowledge her zest for life, mischievousness and youthful sense of freedom and spontaneity. On leaving the club, she converses with a young group of men and we sense her instant chemistry with one of them. Victoria chooses to spend time with the group and as events unfold we watch Victoria make multiple decisions that we feel sure she’ll come to regret. Light flirtation and rebellious partying soon turns into a night of criminal activity and stifling dead ends as Victoria morphs into a dark, menacing and intoxicating thriller. Schipper successfully makes us consider the risks Victoria is taking more than she does. The camera twists, turns and glides along with its characters, enabling us to follow behind them and absorb ourselves in their actions, emotions and decisions; like guardian angels watching over the hopeless and the doomed.
At the film’s heart is the blossoming relationship and chemistry between Victoria and Sonne. The film becomes action filled and energetic in its second half but it remains a fact that half the story is told through glances, body language and everything that goes unsaid. On this note, it’s crucial to mention that one of the most effective techniques used in Victoria is the language barriers. Victoria is Spanish and her German is limited. This allows her male comrades to speak more honestly and harshly around her in their native German tongue. This layered effect highlights Victoria’s vulnerability which, along with the words she doesn’t understand, she seems utterly unaware of. Victoria has a captivating score which helps to break up the endless and relentless filming into the equivalent of scenes. The music is varied and intelligent – rich with melancholy, whimsy and dread. I didn’t once find myself longing for the relief of a cut. I was constantly aware of the effort that was driving the film but it’s handled subtlty enough which engages and doesn’t distract. Although we don’t see much of it, Berlin is at the heart of this movie. More than anything, Victoria is about youth and infatuation. Victoria is lost, venturing down a road and making decisions that many may struggle to understand. Schipper cleverly gives us brief insights into Victoria’s mind and history, presenting her as more complex than many may initially presume. 45 minutes into the film Victoria closes a piano and a phone rings, wonderful and symbolic indications of what’s to come. The next 45 minutes are a heart-pumping, suspenseful nightmare in which the film escalates and morphs into a different being. As the 7am daylight appears over the buildings of the city, the film’s final 45 minutes are something of a delirious, cold, grey chaos. Victoria would have benefited from being twenty minutes shorter but, despite flaws in its closing chapter, it is certainly a mesmerising cinematic feat which wickedly warps from central themes of youthful spontaneity to crime and agonising panic in a haze of mistakes from an unexpected night spent in both heaven and hell.
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