Monday, October 05, 2015

Victoria: One Take is All You Get in Berlin

It is like Hitchcock’s Rope on MDMA. It is 4:30 in the morning, but the day is not over yet. There is still plenty of hedonism to indulge in and crimes to commit. Unfortunately, one Spanish expat will ill-advisedly become involved with the latter in Sebastian Schipper’s legitimate, no-cheating one-take feat Victoria (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

After an aimless night of clubbing, Victoria intends to get a quick rest and then report for work at the organic coffee shop around the corner. However, her plans will be fatefully derailed when she runs into Sonne and his three rowdy friends, Boxer, Blinker, and Fuss. Despite her better judgement, she drinks with them, engaging in a minor bit of delinquency. His three amigos are definitely knuckleheads, but there is a real attraction developing between her and Sonne. That is why he is so reluctant to ask for her help when the dead-drunk Fuss is unable to hold up his end of a dodgy bargain—and why she is willing to agree.

While in prison, Boxer enjoyed the protection of the gangster Andi, who has suddenly called to collect. He has a job for Boxer and the lads—a bank job. He happens to know of an early opening branch office with a stash of cash in a safety deposit box. If you think the heist sounds poorly planned, wait till you see the getaway.

Considering it was shot in twenty-two centrally situated locations in uninterrupted real time, Victoria is an absolute marvel of organization. Yes, they stay within a tight geographic perimeter, but the cast and crew were still covering a great deal of ground, running up and down staircases, in and out of buildings, executing chase sequences that bring to mind Run Lola Run, in which Schipper had a supporting role (some might also recognize him as the strongest co-lead of Tykwer’s 3). That is a whole lot of logistics that all came together perfectly.

Frankly, the first act set-up takes a surprisingly long time, but it convincingly establishes Victoria’s budding relationship with Sonne. After the time we spend with them, we can fully accept her decision to serve as their getaway driver. Of course, from that point on, the film is off to the races.

Laia Costa and Frederick Lau are terrific as Victoria and Sonne, while Franz Rogowski and Burak Yigit are all kinds of bad news as Boxer and Blinker, but in a flamboyantly colorful way. Yet what really defines the film is its evocative sense of place (slightly sketchy, hipsterish Berlin) and the after-hours vibe. Schipper perfectly captures that slightly alienating feeling of being awake when all respectable people are safely asleep.

In addition to running his butt off following the action, cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen gives everything a properly disorienting haze, reflecting the influence of the drugs, alcohol, and trance-inducing club music. Arguably, he also serves as the film’s editor, making editorial decisions on the fly, through his framing. In fact, some of his choices are remarkably astute.

Although the dialogue is largely improvised, there is real substance beneath Schipper’s flashy style. Audiences will not resent investing in his characters. Still, let’s not kid ourselves. The frenetic one-take style is the reason to see his grittily fatalistic caper and it is impressive. Highly recommended for heist movie fans and anybody who just wants to see a filmmaker pull off something cool, Victoria opens this Friday (10/9) in New York, at the Lincoln Plaza.