By Bill Goodykoontz | Gannett News Service
“Victoria” could have been a parlor trick and, in some ways, it is.
Sebastian Schipper’s film is 138 minutes long, takes place in 22 locations — and is shot in one take. The action begins in a disco, travels upstairs, onto the street, up to a roof, into and out of cars, in elevators, in cafes and everywhere else the story takes it, and Schipper’s camera follows.
From a logistical standpoint alone, the film is astonishing. But if that’s all it was, who would care? Budding directors and cinematographers, film students and snooty critics, no one else. Luckily, however, the movie, directed and co-written by Schipper, also delivers as a story.
And star Laia Costa, who plays the title character, is terrific.
The film opens with her dancing, alone, in a Berlin nightclub throbbing with electronic dance music. She leaves and runs into a guy named Sonne (Frederick Lau) who, with his three friends, is busy getting denied admittance to the club she’s exiting. Game for anything, Victoria joins them as they wander around drinking and laughing, heading up to a roof to smoke a joint and generally goofing around.
She’s from Spain and spending time in Germany. Sonne and his friends are low-level crooks, certainly a few steps above scofflaws, but they don’t seem too dangerous — except, maybe, Boxer (Franz Rogowski).
He has a violent temper and, it turns out, has done time. As the night goes on, we learn Boxer owes a real criminal who provided him protection in prison a lot of money. He wants payment — tonight — and has a plan for how to get it.
This will require the services of Victoria as a getaway driver. She’s a willing accomplice, eager to try anything, even commission of a felony. We learn something about why during a conversation she and Sonne have about halfway through the film that is surprising, for reasons we don’t expect. Maybe on the technical front, this served as a chance for the filmmakers to catch their breath and regroup. But again, as with everything else, it serves the story.Schipper shot the film the whole way through three times and used the last version in its entirety, without cuts, with the actors largely improvising their lines against the outline of a story. By necessity, it unfolds in real time and, not surprisingly, given the circumstances, the dialogue feels natural, organic. The planning must have been herculean. But it’s a testament to the skill on the part of Schipper and the actors that it plays realistically.
If the story is not exactly groundbreaking crime drama — has any job in the history of movies gone well? — the sheer momentum of the filmmaking carries us past the rough spots.Yet without Costa, it simply doesn’t work. There’s something about the combination of innocence and a foolhardy willingness to plunge headlong into whatever the night has to offer that makes Victoria a compelling character, and Costa captures those seemingly contradictory characteristics perfectly.
Perhaps the greatest compliment you can pay “Victoria” is that even if you go in knowing about the gimmick, it doesn’t take long for Schipper to make you forget it almost entirely.
Adopt Films presents a film directed by Sebastian Schipper and written by Schipper, Olivia Neergaard-Holm and Eike Schulz. In German with English subtitles. Running time: 138 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre.