DVD Review - Victoria (2015)

This movie won the Silver Bear Award at the 65th Berlinale. It was nominated for three European Awards. It won six German Film Awards, including Outstanding Feature. It was on Germany's shortlist to be submitted for Best Foreign Language Film. It was disqualified because the Academy deemed it had too much English, making it the primary language. The story focuses on the titular character who is a French woman living in Berlin who spends the late night with four, young, German men and she doesn't speak their mother-tongue very well, so she uses English, which the men know somewhat.

Directed and co-written by Sebastian Schipper, the movie is note-worthy because it's over 130 minutes in length but with absolutely no edits or film cuts. The whole thing is one, long, continuous take. Basically, once Schipper started his camera rolling, he didn't stop the camera until two hours and some change later. Once the actors started, they didn't stop until two hours and some change later. It was done like a live, stage play, except it was filmed on location on the streets of downtown Berlin.

Because of which, it already has two advantages and two challenges over the Oscar-winning Birdman. For starters, Birdman isn't actually one, long, continuous take. It just looks like it is, whereas this movie is the real deal. That gives it the advantage of feeling more visceral and more immediate.

It also presents the challenge of crafting beautiful visuals or even fantastic shots with artistic flair. The movie is instead forced to be more documentary-like in its production as it's just following actors as they run around. Birdman confined its actors, for the most part, to one setting, whereas this movie is scattered throughout the city, going down into actual nightclubs or up into actual high-rises. That gives this movie the advantage of feeling authentic, but it also presents the challenge of having to coordinate all of these aspects, live, without the ability to stop.

It can be impressive, but given what happens in the movie, it's not that compelling. The only time that it approaches being truly compelling is in the final act when an action scene breaks out. It's essentially a police shootout, but, compare it to something like Alfonso CuarĂ³n's Children of Men, which features a shootout done in one, long, continuous take, the infamous take that had blood-splatter land on the lens. Compare CuarĂ³n's scene to Schipper's scene and what Schipper does is instantly forgettable.

The key difference is that Children of Men isn't entirely one, long, continuous take, just that one shootout scene, whereas this movie is entirely that, and it seems to build itself, as the title suggests, on the performance of its actress, as well as its lead actor. What Schipper wants people to get as they walk away from this movie is the emotional journey that star Laia Costa puts on display.

Laia Costa is a good actress and watching her raw, unedited performance from beginning to especially the end is a feat onto itself. It's no greater a feat than any Broadway actress, but this film allows more immersion, more reality, more examination of her face, even in this mostly, poorly-lit production.

Unfortunately, that emotional journey and the resonance of it don't hit as hard as it could have. This has to do with a confusion or disappointment about the titular character. Yes, the opening suggests that she's a lonely person, new to Berlin and not with many friends, but she joins up with the four, young, German men rather quickly and with reckless abandon.

All I could think about is Episode 7 of Netflix's Master of None, titled "Ladies and Gentlemen." In that episode, a woman describes the fear of leaving a bar or nightclub and being accosted or worse by creepy, leering or lingering men. The beginning of this movie is Victoria leaving a nightclub and being accosted by lingering and drunk men. Instead of avoiding them as the woman in Master of None does, Victoria goes along with them. Despite red flags that point to these guys being trouble, she continues to go along with them.

The question is why. At first, she might just be too polite, or perhaps there's something about the air of trouble or male roughness that she likes. Maybe she appreciates or it excites her in some way. The final straw though comes about half-way through the movie when Victoria is given a choice.

Victoria witnesses the four guys steal a car. They do so brazenly right in front of her. She's told that one of the guys, a possible skinhead named Boxer, played by Franz Rogowski, has been to prison and owes someone there a favor, an illegal one. That favor is armed robbery of a bank. Having only known these guys an hour, Victoria decides to go along when the leader of the four guys, Sonne, played by Frederick Lau, asks her to be their getaway-driver.

It's ridiculous. Either she's so stupid that she doesn't realize the danger or she wants the danger. Either way, it makes no sense. By going along with the robbery, it's not clear what she gets out of it. Does she want to live now a life of crime? Is she an unrealized thrill-seeker? Is she desperate to have these guys like her? She doesn't appear to be such in the beginning. It's just too weird.

However, even if one accepts whatever Victoria's motives are for participating in the crimes, the stupidity put on display afterward is also very frustrating. Yes, the stupidity of the criminals can be expected, but the stupidity of the police lowers whatever authenticity was established. The police are looking for a man-and-woman couple who ran into an apartment building, so when that exact couple walks past them, the police don't ask their names or for ID, and the couple just slips away easily. It's stupid.

Schipper's camera choices confuse me as well. It seems to follow Victoria, but sometimes not. Toward the end, it goes with her into a bathroom where she composes herself. Immediately after, the camera allows her to walk away as it hangs out with Sonne, so the movie changed point-of-view and I don't know why, but it ultimately reeked more of laziness than anything else.

Even though the movie is not worth its running time, if it's occurring in real-time, it actually is too short. I feel like I didn't get enough or the passage of time wasn't sufficient or satisfying to make me understand or care about the characters. It meanders and doesn't seem like it's totally solid. There were also some homophobic lines that rang horribly.

Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains violence.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 18 mins.

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