Monday, 28 March 2016


Fuck Birdman. Seriously. If you thought that was clever, with its faux-one-take structure, then wait till you cram Sebastian Schipper's 138-minute, genuinely edit-free marvel Victoria into your eyeballs. A heist movie that drags you by the hair into a doomed bank job and its catastrophic aftermath whether you like it or not, it's like being inside Reservoir Dogs and never blinking.

Shot in real time (obviously) on a brutal, early Berlin morning, Victoria begins with the violent flashing of a nightclub strobe light; it's an assault on your eyeballs for sure, but as such it's merely softening you up for what's to come. Schipper, with cinematographer and partner-in-crime Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, latch on to a girl (Laia Costa) dancing in the club and stick to her like glue for the next two hours. We watch, protectively and uncomfortably, as she strikes up conversation with a gang of obviously no-good #lads, taking a shine to their most charismatic member (Frederick Lau). There's a sense that fates are sealed from this moment, and as much as you want her to turn round and go home, you 're stuck with the inevitable, devastating consequences that follow.
It's impossible to separate Victoria's form from its content: it's not a story that just happens to be shot in one take, it's an exercise in total narrative immersion. It would be both a cliché and incorrect to say that you feel like you're actually there, but you do completely ignore the fact that, in this group of five people, there's a sixth dude constantly hanging around with a camera, shooting every sweet, tense, awful moment. The machinations Schipper uses to get around the self-imposed complexities of the plot are by turns obvious and ingenious, but crucially never attention-seeking, while the hurdles he places before Grøvlen as he sends him from street level to rooftops, in and out of cramped cars and across town are almost cruelly inventive.

Laia Costa's performance, meanwhile, is mind-bogglingly impressive. It's a piece of pure theatre; Victoria's arc is ridiculously ambitious, but Costa sells it without a whiff of fakery. There are moments when it's easy to snort a derisory "well, she wouldn't do that", but how do we know? We only just met her. Lau's character Sonne, meanwhile, undertakes a polar opposite journey, meeting Victoria in the middle as their lives change forever under the dawn of a literal and figurative new day.
If the first half feels a little undercranked, it's a necessity brought about by the unavailable option to compress time with editing while we get to know the characters. The result, arguably, is more investment in them and their situation, and this pays off in buckets in the second half - which is anything but uneventful (it's no coincidence that 99% of the stuff in the trailer comes from the film's back end). Most of it will surprise you, some of it won't - a conveniently temperamental getaway car briefly provides an incongruous heist movie trope - but if it doesn't impress you, on a number of levels, then nothing will. Except maybe Birdman.

1 comment :

  1. It was exactly the "conveniently temperamental" getaway car (complete with the dying engine sound and all) which made me walk out of the movie without thinking twice. Why would one build in such an old und dusty story McGuffin while intending to make a film with such high ambitions regarding its authenticity?! Thanks for mantioning this exact scene...
    So - with your review and recommendation now in mind - I probably need to see the film again, this time trying to ignore the sometimes REALLY unnerving bits of the first half.