Enthralling, gripping, and relentless, German director Sebastian Schipper’s debut follows the young, Spanish Victoria through a hectic night of life in Berlin in a single shot lasting 2 hours and 20 minutes.
The shot opens on epilepsy-enducing flashing lights, a hint of emotional chaos to come. We find Victoria enjoying herself — alone — in a German dance club. As she heads back above ground and retreives her bike to go home, she meets a small gang of German hoodlums who call one another by charming nick-names: Sonne (“Sun”), Boxer, Blinker, and Fuß (“Foot”). They are obviously law-breakers but seemingly harmless. As they convince her to spend some time with them, romantic sparks are set off between Victoria and Sonne, the apparent leader. Actors Laia Costa and Frederick Lau bring a convincing chemistry to their roles. Indeed, the film produces impressive performances all around, especially considering the dialogue was mostly improvised. The night goes on, and an interesting romance tinged with important bits of Victoria’s past gives way to a bank robbery imposed upon the gang thanks to Boxer’s old debt to a characature of a criminal boss.
While the entirety of the robbery and the events that follow are remarkably tense, the use of such an extreme long-take proves in the end to be both the film’s most important attribute and it’s cheapest gimmick. Were the film shot in a more traditional manner, it could have been just another stale exercise in genre filmmaking.
Thanks to its single take, every event feels longer (and it is), and keeps adrenaline levels high. That said, it all comes off as a bit of a cheat in the end. Sure, it was emotionally gripping, but ultimately it is near void of real substance. At a certain point, its intriguing nature gives way to emotional manipulation. From the moment the heist scenario is introduced, the film switches gears from being genuinely fascinating to genuinely manipulative.
Shot on a (relatively) light-weight Canon C-300, it took three tries to capture the final film — impressive considering the amount of coordination involved across such a length of time and number of locations. Danish cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen was awarded a Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution alongside Evgeniy Privin and Sergey Mikhalchuk for their cinematography in Under Electric Clouds. That both films were lauded for their camerawork is a respectable choice, but while Evgeniy Privin and Sergey Mikhalchuk’s win stems from long-takes of precise coordination and careful composition, Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s win feels more like the gold medal awarded a marathon runner for his endurance. Director Sebastian Schipper reportedly did not want to take so much influence from other heist films as from real-life bank robberies, and it shows.
The whole thing feels about as “real” as a film can, but through its very existence, Victoria poses the question: what’s the point of falsely staging a real event? In film — or indeed throughout art in general — the concept of falsely staging reality is far from alien, but if the film has nothing to say about such a staging, if it exists merely to superficially heighten emotions, it proves itself near worthless. The film undeniably had my heart racing, but once I walked out of the theater and back into the safety of my own life, I no longer cared.
2 hours, 20 minutes
Drama, Crime, Foreign
Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit, Max Mauff, André M. Hennicke, Anna Lena Klenke and Eike Schulz