Director: Sebastian Schipper
Cast: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit
Synopsis: A young Spanish woman who has newly moved to Berlin finds her flirtation with a local guy turn potentially deadly as their night out with his friends reveals a dangerous secret.
*Victoria had a limited U.S. release in October, 2015. It is currently playing in theaters across Europe, and is now available to stream on Netflix in the U.S..
Review: If you have a Netflix – which, let’s face it, most of us do by now – then you should check out Victoria. If you love tracking shots, and movies like Birdman for their technical achievement, then you’ll love Victoria. Though vastly different from the aforementioned 2014 Best Picture winner, which was edited and presented as one continuous take, Victoria takes the same approach and raises the bar – clocking in at about 2 hours and 15 minutes – it actually is one long, single tracking shot. As with Birdman, this approach delivers with an utterly immersive and exhilarating experience, here in the form of a crime thriller, that seduces you with ambience and a natural flow as we follow Victoria and her newly found friends as they go from an innocent night out on the town (in Berlin), into a claustrophobic, gut-wrenching heist that will keep your blood pressure up for, pretty much, the entire second half of the film.
You’d be forgiven for feeling skeptical, approaching a film that seemingly uses this technique as the sole gimmick and premise – the technique is, indeed, used to full effect – but it’s used merely to heighten an already endearing and harrowing story. What is, and what always has been the great thing about tracking shots, no matter in what capacity (and, of course, when used appropriately), is that it immerses you into the picture – it puts you in the scene right alongside the characters as the situation, or in this case, the entire story unfolds. So imagine, if you can, that same, energizing sensation you felt whilst watching Birdman being applied to a crime thriller, and rest assured, the experience is as intense as it sounds.
Fortunately, the story and it’s characters live up to the film’s technical ambition. We join Victoria (Laia Costa) in the midst of an underground nightclub, dancing and drinking alone, and it is from here that we follow her on her journey – making new friends, joining them as run amuck across town, innocently flirting with the charming leader of the pack, Sonne (Frederick Lau) – and what starts off as a night of harmless mischief, spirals into heart-stopping frenzy, throwing the unsuspecting and trusting Victoria into an impossible scenario in which she finds herself as the getaway driver in a bank robbery.
Remarkably, whilst this may sound like a farfetched transition, it works almost impeccably, with an impressive balance of subtlety and precision. And what may seem like unbelievable scenarios, they are in fact perfectly justifiable and nuanced to the characters involved. Though the group runs around town having fun and enjoying the very early hours of the morning, we get the impression that these aren’t necessarily good people, or at least not totally law-abiding people as we follow them and learn, through Victoria’s eyes, their personalities and mannerisms. So when things take a turn for the worse and they are, essentially, forced into the committing the crime, it’s not so hard to believe that these people would find themselves in this situation, why they would go through with it, and why Victoria would feel inclined to tag along. Justifying it only further are the events that follow as these reckless, nonprofessional bank robbers make mistake after mistake and their plan spirals out of control, and their situation gradually goes from bad to worse to impossible, all the while remaining utterly believable. The actions and reactions of the players involved, no matter how reckless or frustrating they certainly may be, are simply what we come to expect from each of them as the story goes on.
A film with an ambition of this magnitude couldn’t have worked, of course, without a perfectly able cast, and that is certainly what we get in Victoria. With the help of the tracking shot, we get the realism of the world that these characters live in, but it’s through these characters that the entire story works at all. Through Victoria’s quiet timidness, her initial loneliness, and gradual solidarity we learn all we need to know about this girl in just a short matter of time. And so it goes for the others also. As Victoria, Laia Costa is revelation (and a beauty) – she carries this movie effortlessly from it’s opening frame all the way to it’s very last, and what an overwhelmingly emotional journey it is. Frederick Lau is just as brilliant, and the chemistry that he and Costa share throughout the film is wonderful to watch unfold.
It took a total of three takes to shoot Victoria, which is quite a feat considering just how elaborate the plot becomes. It’s a rare film where ambition pays off and is met with a alluring story and a compelling cast, and Victoria hits each note perfectly. If you’re weary of foreign films, you needn’t be here as most of the dialogue is actually in English (used to jump the language barrier between the Spanish native Costa and the rest of the German cast), hence why we didn’t see this movie up for a Foreign-Language Oscar this past season. So, the next time you’re browsing aimlessly through the Netflix library, instead seek out Victoria, and add it to your list. Don’t watch the trailer, the less you know about what unfolds, the better, because I can assure you the trailer does have some spoilers. The best way to watch this movie is to just dive in and buckle-up for the ride (and oh, what a ride), because you won’t want to miss a single beat.