A bank robbery and the Berlin club scene collide in one-note 'Victoria'

Energetic, visceral and above all gimmicky, “Victoria” is a nearly two-and-a-half hour emotional ride set in real time with one continuous shot. It banks on the one-take gimmick utilized in last year’s “Birdman,” but is actually shot in one-take, unlike “Birdman” which was just edited to look that way. 

The technical prowess and sheer luck involved in the project made many fear that it could never be done, but German director Sebastian Schipper proved the naysayers wrong. Unfortunately, behind the technique, unique filming method and breakout performance by Laia Costa is a thinly veiled story that relies on "realistic" authenticity, but is hugely contrived.

After a night of clubbing, Victoria (Laia Costa), a young lady from Madrid who recently moved to Berlin, found herself wooed by a group of locals. The locals, Sonne (Frederick Lau), Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit) and Fuss (Max Mauff) all invite her on a walk. The group meanders through the streets of Berlin, stealing alcohol, smoking marijuana and bonding. 

Victoria leaves the boys to begin opening the cafe that she works at, but she invites Sonne to come with. The two romantically bond, but the high of the evening is put on hold when the boys convince Victoria to become an accomplice in a mob-led, bank robbery.

“Victoria” is most mysterious and enticing in its first act when it allows its performances and film making to speak freely. There is an air of lightness in the first act as friendships form in a natural and mostly unscripted way. The sweeping and energetic camera motion provide an interesting look into the smokey club but, as you look deeper, there is something vaguely uncomfortable being presented, a tense fog that affects the little elements of the interactions. 

The opening 30 minutes are masterfully layered and compelling due to a believable and human aura with a hint of something darker beneath the surface. But, when the film shifts focus and the night grows longer, much of the brevity and believability are lost. As the alcohol and drugs leave the quintet, the experience grows sobering.

Once the heist begins, “Victoria” becomes a middling work with flashes of genius, rather than the innovative feat that precedes it. The group of nice guys that Victoria met at the beginning of the night display their true colors as novice criminals, but it all rings false. The troubles that got them in the situation, the robbery and all the ultimate outcome are all doused with fiction, which Schipper attempted to vehemently avoid. 

By the two-hour mark, I was tired and no longer enchanted by what had become a self-indulgent risk rather than the sexy and alluring adventure initially promised. 

The only aspect of the film that never seemed tired was breakout star, Laia Costa. Costa’s Victoria drives the film through its most insufferable moments and shapes the whole film with her internal complexities. Victoria is a chameleon, showing flashes of innocence and darkness despite the tumultuous environment around her. The boys lead her on an adventure that clearly takes her out of her comfort zone.  

The camera’s lens is never far from her and her subtle presence is demanding. It is no wonder why she fell under the gaze of the group of locals — she is stunning and she can break hearts with teary eyes, biting her thumbnail, universally indicating she is in far over her head. 

Despite a great performance by Lau and the rest of the supporting cast, no one can hold a candle to what Costa is able to do with such ease. Costa blends a technical approach to acting with restrained freedom and is a revelation undeterred by her youth.

Overall, “Victoria” is energetic and frenzied but never lives up to the honesty in promises. In fact, “Victoria” is a one-note engagement that is given the opportunity to explore what makes people good and bad, but breaks into chaos with little insight. 

Despite its unevenness, “Victoria” would serve as a great stepping stone for a moviegoer who wants to explore foreign cinema. It is far from Hollywood and not even like American indies; it has a distinctly European vibe but blends the English and German languages together. 

Ultimately, “Victoria” is a masterful technical accomplishment and is only a disappointment because there is so much underutilized potential. 

Reach the reporter at tanner.stechnij@asu.edu or follow @tannerstechnij on Twitter.

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