A TECHNICAL wonder is the main point for Victoria, an initially slow but gradually interesting crime drama set on the streets of Berlin clocking in at two-and-a-quarter hours and filmed in literally one continuous take.
The film starts with the Spanish titular character, having moved from Spain to Germany (Laia Costa), dancing in a nightclub she has attended alone. Upon leaving, she strikes up a conversation (some German, some English) with four young men who invite her to the rooftop of their apartment for drinks. When she leaves, the ringleader Sonne (Frederick Lau) agrees to take her to the café where she is due to start a shift later on, with a dawning that a potential spark lies between the two.
Eventually, word gets out that Sonne and his friends have run into some trouble and with a degree of reluctance, Sonne asks Victoria if she will drive them to their rendezvous. She agrees and it turns out that a local gangster wants Sonne and his friends to rob $50,000 from a bank. Forced to do so, the gang agree with Victoria acting as their accepting driver, leading to a chain of events that will leave a vast impression on her life.
When looking at this, there is absolutely no denying that the director, cinematographer and any of the cast members deserve credit for achieving the task of filming the entire film in one take, bringing to mind Sokurov’s Russian Ark for technical basis.
If the first half plays like an overlong character examination, the second half plays in stark contrast, acting as a solid thriller with the long take contributing to its realism.
For the first hour, there is a worry that in spite of what is being achieved, the same cannot be said for what the overall film is doing. Patience is a virtue, yet the film does suffer at times from the male characters being written in a thin manner and not really posing as interesting enough to listen to as they converse.
When Victoria and Sonne get to her café, she proceeds to play a Mephisto Waltz on a piano, before explaining her unsuccessful attempts at becoming a musician due to the highly competitive nature of others. That is when the film starts to increase the interest that had been lacking from that point, just in time for the centre point of the film to kick in.
Victoria effectively takes her role as getaway driver as a favour, even when Sonne frequently states that she does not need to. There is an element that doing the robbery is mainly to protect Victoria, who is threatened with remaining with the gangster if the gang do not commit to the robbery within minutes of agreeing rather than waiting longer.
It tells that the relationship between Victoria and Sonne is going to prove crucial, and once the robbery is committed, the plotline, filmed in real time, moves to an often intense and extended escape sequence that forgives the first half for its flaws.
The second half displays a significant amount of genuine intensity, specifically during one sequence where the gang, having celebrated their victory with a second visit to the nightclub from the start, find themselves gradually under pursuit from the police. Without giving anything away, the bravura use of cinematography is all clear as various escape routes are plotted with one wondering who will manage to escape intact, if anyone.
During the actual sequence of the robbery, rather than focusing on the robbers, the film makes the decision to concentrate on Victoria as she sits in the car, only for it to stall. It is the idea of the risks on top of other risks the film details in an effective manner, allowing the film to succeed far more in its stance as a thriller than the drama that it starts as.
The performance of Costa is of particular impressiveness as the girl who goes from innocent clubgoer to robbery collaborator, yet retaining our sympathy throughout as she is not really portrayed as a villain, just a naïve person caught up in a wrong. Playing by far and far, the strongest and the only interesting of the characters, Costa displays innocence, vulnerability, fear and desperation in a theatrical-like performance that demonstrates constant emotional change.
Consistency is an issue with the film, but Victoria works in general, even if the film has to rely mostly on the diverse performance from its lead actress and success at its technically ambitious achievement.