In a film that is both of and for a generation, Victoria is a hypnotic work of art that thoroughly executes the technical mountain of being shot in one single take, whilst maintaining a tight grip on the viewer that is both mesmerising and provocative.
Hailing originally from Madrid, the title character is a young, lonely newcomer to Berlin who befriends a group of upbeat German men after leaving a nightclub at 4am: they are Sonne, Boxer, Blinker and Fuss. There is an immediate attraction between Victoria and Sonne, a man full of jokes and bravado, and with Victoria eagerly in tow, the group eventually make their way to a rooftop to smoke a joint. The young woman then decides to call it a night in order to open the café she works in, and Sonne- in full flirt-mode- accompanies her.
Alone together at last, Sonne and Victoria’s vulnerability is perfectly captured by cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, as Victoria masterfully performs one of the Mephisto Waltzes on the café’s piano, much to the surprise of both Sonne and the audience. We discover that she was once a virtuoso pianist in a music conservatory for most of her young life, but by the end was told that she was not good enough to be professional, and subsequently moved to Berlin, relinquishing her dreams. Victoria’s desperate, passionate performance visibly moves Sonne, and through the painfully raw dialogue, we are lured into a sweetness that is reluctantly short-lived.
Our fears are eventually confirmed when it is revealed that the men are indeed criminals, with Boxer summoning the friends to help him pay back a ‘debt’ to a gangster who once protected him in jail. After Fuss becomes unconscious from his boozing, Victoria surprisingly agrees to drive the men to meet the gangsters, once she is assured she will be brought right back to the café afterwards. However not all goes as planned, and it turns out the group must now commit a bank robbery, with Victoria as designated driver. From here on out, it is a truly distressing experience watching a film that has the ultimate push/pull factor: be warned, this is not for the faint-hearted.
On a personal note, Victoria reminded me of singer Björk’s performance in Dancer in the Dark: indeed the opening scene of Victoria shows her dancing in a nightclub, lost in the music and safety of darkness. Both female leads find themselves foreign, vulnerable and lonely, with forgone dreams and a world where reality never fails to bite back. Although Björk’s character is physically blind unlike Victoria, the latter’s total naivety can challenge the validity of her character, which is probably the film’s only major setback, along with slightly nausea-inducing camera jitters.
But griping about her decisions seems to miss the point of something that had me so mesmerised, I actually felt physically sick when events took a bad turn. The cast is fiercely talented, particularly Costa, and never before have I watched a film that demands active engagement through a brilliant yet agonising two and a half hours.
5 / 5
Dir: Sebastian Schipper
Scr: Sebastian Schipper, Eike Schulz, Olivia Neergaard-Holm
Cast: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski
Prd: Catherine Baikousis, Barbara Buhl
DOP: Sturla Brandth Grøvlen
Music: Nils Frahm
Run time: 138 mins
Victoria is available on DVD from 23rd May.