Directed by Sebastian Schipper.
Starring Laia Costa, Frederick Lau and Franz Rogowski.
Victoria meets a group of guys while at a club, but soon finds herself drawn into their world when they have to repay a dangerous favour that same night.
If you’ve read anything about Victoria, it’s that it’s done in a single, 138 minute long take. Completed on the third attempt, it seems like a logistical nightmare for a lot of its running time – did that car mean to come down the street at that exact moment? Did that character actually receive a phone call from that character at this exact time? Was Victoria really playing the piano in that scene? In that case, it’s most likely that she wasn’t, but the film is certainly an impressive piece of work, technically. The issue is that every piece of coverage you’ll read on Victoria makes a big deal of the single take and doesn’t really bring up much else. That’s because there isn’t much else to rave about. Everything is done in service to the single take structure, forcing characters to make some stupid decisions and story beats to be left in the dirt as the film progresses.
It’s a simple story of “boy meets girl, then boy convinces girl to help him and his friends rob a bank”. The first hour plays out almost like a ‘meet cute’ between Victoria (Laia Costa) and Sonne (Frederick Lau), with them and a group of his friends dabbling in a bit of light vandalism, but turns even more sinister when it appears that one of the group, Boxer (Franz Rogowski) owes a gangster a favour and they need a driver…
Due to the single take structure – at least for the first half – there’s a realistic look to the film that evokes Nicolas-Winding Refn’s Pusher or Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine – other films that follow petty criminals over a single night. Going from location to location in a single movement, the camera becomes the most interesting character in the film, with the cinematography becoming truly inspired at points, especially the opening scene.
But as the film progresses, that isn’t enough to distract from overlong scenes and dead air. With dialogue mostly improvised, nothing much is said between characters other than ‘shut up’, ‘what do we do now’ or ‘it’s the cops!’ and the tension that the film tries to create is stripped away when you realise the actors are simply running between set pieces every twenty minutes.
And although we spend the first hour or so getting to know the characters, we never really learn enough to care. Boxer owes a debt, and Sonne fancies Victoria. But why does that mean Victoria has to help them out? Perhaps Victoria does what she does out of empathy for Sonne, but when she’s threatening to take someone’s baby hostage in order to escape the police, it’s difficult to see where or when she made the leap from quiet café owner to hardened criminal.
Another issue is that the film is just far too long. It didn’t need to be over two hours. A 90 minute long take would have been just as impressive and the film would have benefited from it, especially seen as the film comfortably ends at about three points throughout.
And, even though they got the film on the third try – maybe they could have had another go at it just for peace of mind. Yes, organising everything to be in the right place at the right time would be difficult, but there’s a version of Victoria out there that’s a bit more comfortable in its third act. You can tell the actors, especially in one scene involving a block of flats – haven’t made it that far before and, running on pure adrenaline, they go from 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds. Unfortunately, we’re left wondering where that energy was before, when it mattered.
At its heart, Victoria is a straightforward crime drama done in an interesting way that gets people into the cinemas. But, let’s be honest, an average crime drama done in a single 138 minute long take is still an average crime drama and no amount of fancy camera work can distract from that.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★