Victoria : A Film Review

Picture this

This is a film of stealth and realtime cinematic vision.  In 134 minutes is is all over.  In one take.

It is audacious, gripping, filmicly sublime, brilliantly played and as a tale of modern Europe with ever increasing racial conflict it endeavours to put the nastiness of real time, day time life in a far of place while these young people try to make their way in the world. The dark night escapism becomes a severe challenging uncompromising confrontation with choice which are not your everyday ones. There is even a love story developing here.
Sometimes a really unusual film surfaces and has you gripped from start to finish. Victoria is one such film. Gripping, engrossing, emotionally engagin, it is a thrilling provocative study of fragility and choices determined through minutest detail how a life can be transformed in an instant.
The film was shot in one single long take by Sturla Brandth Grøvlen from about 4:30 AM to 7:00 AM on 27 April 2014 in the Kreuzberg and Mitte neighborhoods.

Victoria herself is as you might imagine the one character we can all relate to.  Played brilliantly by Laia Costa who looks a bit like a petite Darcy Bussell, (not strictly!) takes us on an odyssey within her life in Berlin as an incomer. The remaining key players are as follows –  Sonne (Frederick Lau) and his friends Fuss (Max Mauff), Boxer (Franz Rogowski), and Blinker (Burak Yigit) the guys she lets into her enclosed world. Director Sebastian Schipper (Actor, Run Lola Run, The English Patient)and the team apparently had four goes at making it until this final finished glorious outcome.  Perseverance is the shtick best describing all the efforts to bring it to this result.  Like an on stage play it contains some flaws but they actually heighten the gravity and suspenseful journey.

Strobe lighting aside, music durable techno, the vibe of a night out is the early morning setting for the portrayal of a lone traveller, Victoria from Madrid who is testing Berlin and herself to find a place in life; she has been there three months finding out what makes her tick and exposes her vulnerabilities as well as hitherto unknown strengths.  It emphasises as unfamiliar cities – tried by many before her – test her metal and flexibility of sociability and protection and safety, well being. Survival at the heart of existence.
We first see her as a night clubber pulsating vibe like any dungeon cavernous club.  She draws us into the fantasy suspension experimental escapism of music played in the commune of a Nightclub.  The location becomes secondary, it is a space of suspension of beliefs, literally a dry ice whiteout, and introduces us to the key players taking us on this onward non stop journey we are to be absorbed into from four o’clock onwards – in a time when most of the near humanity is asleep undercurrent adventure, skirting the law takes place.  The film unfolds at a pace which almost makes you believe, and react as though you are part of the group – in one take – taking place in 22 locations and introducing the night normality of entertainment in Berlin’s Mitte district and Kreuzberg. The latter apparently a ‘well off’ district.
Berlin Night and Shade
Sebastian Schipper.
The camera is firstly used extensively for head shots of Victoria and held shoulder height.  If they go up some steps it rises as you eye would. If it looks down on someone sitting, likewise. Quite steady and replicating a persons movement, without a sign of unsteadiness in any viewpoint.  When she sees some guys who she indirectly saw and briefly spoke to one, messing around drunkenly around a car a conversation develops and her bike (there are a lot of bikes chained up and resting in Berlins Mitte district!) forms a link as the guys show their balance and skills.  
Sturla Brandth Grvlen Cinematographer Cameraman.
Here the language barriers cross with they as Berliners, some speaking German only, and her able to converse with principally one, Sonne looking like a young Brando who has a good command of English.  This presents an opportunity to develop the tensions even further as Victoria is discussed in their native tongue while she takes risks and engages more testing herself and her loneliness outside a comfort zone. The guys have odd names, Fuss, Boxer, Blinka, Sonne. In one line Sonne tells Victoria and us what it’s about. “I’ll show you our world.”  It is both generous and dangerous.  Just like life. There are simple elements actually calling the story narrative as an ultra state love story.  It can be accepted on several levels such is the mastery involved in the whole films development.  One view was expressed to me that development was both present and absent.  That is, it was seen in unconventional form. 

Victoria has to initially make choices about shut eye for the short time to her breakfast stint as a part-time waitress so her expectations never raise the bar much and she tries to slope away for a few hours shut eye but instead becomes embroiled in the group who are shifting their feet, sans music, on the pavement outside. Here she makes a decision bringing into the story the Cafe in Mitte where she works. I wrote down the name of the cafe which I presume is just a made up name. It was hand written elegantly in ‘whitewash’ on the windows of this end of block, prominent cafe, Wilhelm + Medne, allegedly an organic coffee house. The locations lit in the stark contrasts of night also add dramatic intensity and soon an intimacy is turned on.  It is where the story then in a non linear way kicks off, astride the clubgoers and the district. All is to happen around this tightly woven scenic, atmospheric district which director Sebastian Schipper must have scouted painstakingly with cameraman and art director, for weeks and months to cut it into plan which has no outakes or reshooting.
Method and miracle

The camera work is paramount to pulling this off as a story and it is achieved brilliantly by the reci, the planning, the knowing the form the story is to take by all the actors. When some are playing various levels of drunkeness and spaced out joint induced; one who is left behind, itself a cause of a major problem dragging Victoria deeper into their world is followed meticulously by all.   It is bravado and the pre-scripted elements allowing improvisation make for an intensely real construct. In each location the finite explorations of character are exhumed.  Dead to the daytime world they are in darkness and they bond. Even further on the bond becomes virtually unbreakable and sears at your own emotional connections with them.  It is brutal in parts, soft and gentle, warm and tender in others.  Far from the wearisome prospect of this, what some reviewers idiotically call a stunt, form it gives the viewer their shocks, surprises, preconceptions right in their lap and their heart.  As with the drugs partly a cause of their unwise moves at times, it projects highs, heightened, lows, lower than imagined which you will all see breathtakingly bold and as real as might be possible given we are looking at a cinema wall.  Somehow the fourth wall is enveloped.  
It is through the ballet of the camera the above is achieved. I thought of Dancer in the Dark, with Bjork and its outdoor musical feel intensified by situation.  I listened to the studious; there is one gorgeous defining piece inset at the cafe which is beautiful and essential as story element. There are sound sculptures with crossover, flipped silences, with tip tap, windscreen sounding type beats either real or added providing the dilemma for the viewer to ask themselves is it real or is it imagined. In every sense this construct is utilised to embed the story in your emotional reactions.  Both handsome and not so pretty.  As I noted early we are the third person in the frame. The actors using improvisation when the story is not focusing on a very tight set of actions provide you with loose reality though director Sebastian Schipper’s vision.
Reminiscent of Ordet but shot in one day it is a homage of a kind to the masterful filmaking of Carl Theodor Dreyer whose 114 takes of around seven minutes each were groundbreaking in Cinematic realisation.  Made over four months he would have one take each day limiting movement, lighting, condensing the surreal visionary themes developed prior to filming. 
Belief of a visionary
Ordet – Carl Theodore Dreyer
“I believe that long takes represent the film of the future. You must be able to make a film in six, seven, eight shots…Short scenes, quick cuts in my view mark the silent film, but the smooth medium shot — with continual camera movement — belongs to the sound film. “Carl Theodor Dreyer

Instead of making central the minimum of shots, Carl Theodor Dreyer played on the objects within the frame, editing them out, though not as a visual pedant seeking immateriality. He focuses alternatively the viewers eyes on the meaningfulness of the ‘words’ essentially materialized by the scenes and facial expressions he wishes us to unite.  He does not remove every straw frowqm the barn where the pigs lie – inadvertently or not – for the sake of ruining a take?! – he leaves the pen door open in one where the pigs are then likely to wander off.  It’s priorities and not pedantry which encapsulates this film like no other I have seen or am likely to see.

As a tribute to the film makers going out of their way to offer some additional insights I came across a site with as you can see a title which itself describes our need to engage with creative film making. It is worth reading. Besides the writing is less lumpen than mine. It has an advantage of a one to one with the Director.This film is something of a landmark as far as I am concerned. It is visionary in its treatment and fluidity which pulls you in. Whether it is because you want to be there, (most probably not) as the idea of risk appeals somehow, or you love the looseness and character encounter it is profoundly affecting as a film can be.

Conclusion #####5
An immediate instant seat grabbing enthralling film. It starts off framing close up the escape of Victoria in that place most of us have been. The anonymity of a nightclub with you absorbing, responding to the audio immersion. Learning just recently bass is not heard through your ear but through your skeleton, your flesh then bones, the experience is even more personal, no matter whose around, who your with. This is the description of the cinematic experience as sought by Sebastian Schipper and I would say practically delivered.
We don’t watch films with our brains, and we don’t watch films with our hearts. I think we watch films with our nervous systems. You’re in this river, and whether it’s fast or at times really slow, if we changed rivers, you would feel it.” Sebastian Schipper. Like Carl Theodore Dreyer before, 1955 in fact, the suspension in a film is about many specifics coming together. Story, telling, revealing, knowing, desiring, expecting, loss, imprisonment, conflict resolution and limbo. There are many other things but visually and aurally we have our receptive ‘nervous system’. This film will take yours places I hope. Beneficial and illuminating.

John Graham

28 March 2016


I asked two visitors to Belfast; returning to see the place again after many years for their reaction to the film. We had quite a deep discussion about the various themes and consequences, making and special emotional grab of the film.
These are just a few quotes I pressed out of them which were given graciously and with special meaningful insight.

Christiane. from Berlin.
2+ hours joining real time through a Berlin night – what could you imagine could happen? A whole world of psychology, adrenalinc madness, commitments and a glimpse of life’s craziness.

Malene. Denmark.
Brilliant camera(work) Very convincing acting.
Sitting on the edge of the chair for over two hours.

Opening at Queens Film Theatre from Friday 1 April to 14 April 2016. No perfect storm expected, freaky Friday, April fool etc. it’s not an April fool, 13th is a Thursday, so do not be afraid! April fools are meant to be over by noon!
Actually – expect to be gripped emotionally and enthralled and surprised. I was.
From the soundtrack DJKoze stands out. Nils Frahm never does for me!
No. Title
1. “Burn With Me (Victoria Edit)” DJ Koze 5:18
2. “Our Own Roof” Nils Frahm 5:18
3. “A Stolen Car” Nils Frahm 4:44
4. “In The Parking Garage” Nils Frahm 4:55
5. “Them” Nils Frahm 4:00
6. “The Bank” Nils Frahm 7:18
7. “The Shooting” Nils Frahm 4:50
8. “Nobody Knows Who You Are” Nils Frahm 2:48
9. “Pendulum” Nils Frahm 2:41
10. “Happy New Fear (Bonus track)” Deichkind 2:32
11. “Marilyn Whirlwind (Bonus track)” DJ Koze 7:12