I’m sure most of us have found ourselves either moving to a new city or state because of work or our parents made the decision for us. It can be confusing, strange, frustrating, and exciting all at once. What would be one way of acclimating to these new surroundings and possibly forming lasting friendships? Perhaps joining a local sports league or maybe taking up a cooking class. A book club doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary and can often have you engaged in hours of conversation. If none of this sounds like your cup of tea, I suppose robbing a bank would be another option.
In Victoria, directed by Sebastian Schipper, Victoria (Laia Costa) is still a relatively new citizen in Berlin, having moved from Spain a few months prior. She does not speak any German, but communicates comfortably and even has a job at a café. She also enjoys getting lost in the nightlife and clubs that Germany has to offer, eventually finding herself in the company of four gentlemen named Sonne, Boxer, Blinker, and Fuss.
Victoria develops a particularly strong connection with Sonne (Frederick Lau) as all five of them make their way through the streets of Berlin in the late evening hours. Boxer (Franz Rogowski) is the leader of the group and warns Sonne of going on ego trips, meaning to avoid spending the whole night with Victoria. As fate would have it, Boxer and his group have a special job they need to take care of in a few hours, but one of their men has fallen ill. Victoria agrees to help with their mission by being their driver and before she can figure things out, a German to English dictionary could have saved her a lot of trouble, she is directly involved in an amateur bank heist. Boxer owes money to a gangster and must now pull off this robbery to pay off his debt. The evening slowly transforms from careless, amusing conversations to guns, a stolen getaway van, and a police chase.
Victoria is one of Germany’s top films this year and was almost selected as the submission for foreign language film at the Academy Awards, being beaten out by Labyrinth of Lies. It uses a one-take device of filmmaking, similar to Birdman, where the camera moves along with Victoria as the story unfolds. It never cuts away to another scene or leaves Victoria’s side. It gives you the impression the movie is moving in real-time and this is good in building up the intensity as our characters begin to enact their plan and eventually try to escape capture.
The dialogue is very loose and what you would expect from a couple of guys getting drunk and trying to impress a pretty girl they’ve just met. It can be a little difficult to stay engaged with the interactions, but occasionally the characters offer some interesting back story to their lives. One scene in the café Victoria works for, and is supposed to be opening for the morning crowd, is very interesting to watch. You’re not entirely sure of Sonne or his friends’ intentions, if there are any, at first, but in this moment you can tell Sonne would like nothing more than to spend the rest of the night with Victoria and forget about what he has to do.
The main issue I would say with this movie is the cinematography. I could also point out the editing, the movie could have been 45 minutes shorter, but it’s the camera work I could not overcome. The director might have wanted us to feel like we were right there in Berlin by having the cameraman walk, or run, alongside our eventual bank robbers, but all it did was create this shaky camera effect that only subsided when nothing was happening.
On top of that, this movie is subtitled and, while I have no problem reading subtitles and even prefer it to dubbed dialogue, I found it close to impossible to not have eye fatigue reading words while the entire screen shook or vibrated. The script has to be that much more compelling for me to ignore the camera work and it isn’t. Although I did find Victoria a fascinating individual as the evening progressed.
Victoria is a terrific, little story, but it will not be an easy movie to watch with the sudden movements and unsteady camera usage. I would support a fundraiser to remake this movie scene-for-scene, but insist next time they use a tripod or track slider in every shot. Aside from the visual nausea aspect, I enjoyed Laia Costa’s acting and how she made Victoria a believable character with all her impulsive decisions and eagerness to belong or be loved.
The supporting characters don’t feel entirely fleshed out and only really serve to carry Victoria’s character headfirst into an even bigger and more dangerous adventure than she could have ever bargained for. The real-time film device also made the story move well, except in a few scenes where everything seems to slow down for no reason. It’s a simple, yet engaging tale of reckless abandonment derived from past mistakes in our characters’ lives and it also has a beginning, middle, and end. It’s good for a movie to sometimes offer a cautionary tale to the audience. In this movie’s case, it’s either to learn German or wait until the third date before asking your girlfriend to join a bank robbery.
Synopsis: While on holiday in Berlin, a young woman finds her flirtation with a local guy turn potentially deadly as their night out with his friends reveals its secret: the four men owe someone a dangerous favor that requires repaying that evening.
Director: Sebastian Schipper
Writers: Olivia Neergaard-Holm, Sebastian Schipper, Eike Frederik Schulz
Stars: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit, Max Mauff
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 138 Minutes