Victoria Stands Out at the Virginia Film Festival
A hidden gem emerged out of the 2015 Virginia Film Festival in the German flick Victoria. This year’s festival garnered its largest audience yet and featured some star-studded films like the Cate Blanchett-helmed Carol, and Brooklyn, starring Saiorse Ronan. A film that stands out, however, is Victoria, directed by Sebastian Schipper and starring Laia Costa and Frederick Lau. The film has already won Outstanding Feature Film at the German Film Awards. When the programmer of the Virginia Film Festival, Wesley Harris, came out to introduce the film, he said it was one of the longest single-shot films ever produced and I felt a pain of agony at the thought of watching such a long and unedited film. But, after seeing Victoria, the two-and-a-half hour length film still left me wanting more and the single-shot camera style could not have been more fittingly brilliant.
The film starts out with a 20-something Spaniard named Victoria partying in an underground Berlin nightclub. She is alone, inebriated, and in a euphoric state. It is suggested that Victoria is lonely in this foreign country. As she is getting ready to exit the nightclub, she comes across a rowdy group of guys who crack jokes and make cheeky comments to the bouncer about Victoria being their friend and needing to be in the club with her. As they all leave together, a fast friendship forms between the group and Victoria.
The acting and dialogue in the film is so realistic that it recalled my own memories of travelling to Europe. Victoria is giggly and shy among these strange foreign guys and they pick up on it, which I think any foreign girl travelling in Europe can relate to. The guys become fond of Victoria’s foreign innocence and her sweetness, and try to get her to open up. There are jokes about their communication being lost in translation and playful teasing among the guys. The group’s interactions become kind of endearing and the guys’ friendship developing with Victoria seems natural.
The guys—Sonne, Fuss, Boxer, and Blinker—are wild from the get-go, but they start to appear a little dangerous after they begin smoking weed on a building rooftop. Boxer mentions to Victoria that he got the scar on his hand after being in a prison fight. These inklings of danger can almost go ignored. Their night of youthful messing-around and the silliness of the guys make the audience feel the bond that Victoria does. Despite the obvious red-flags, the guys still seem trustworthy. It turns out that Boxer owes money to someone for protection they gave him in prison. This person wants Boxer to do a bank robbery job that requires four men, but Fuss is too inebriated to be of any help. Boxer coerces Sonne to convince Victoria to be their getaway driver. He is hesitant to involve her, but Victoria is eager to help her new friends.
The rest of the film follows as they rob the bank and are then pursued by the police. The plot seems far-fetched, but through the narrative of the film, the progression to the bank robbery and ensuing police chase is seamless. Because of the single-shot filming style, the emotional range of the characters is felt by the audience because it follows Victoria in every single second of this insane night. When they are having fun dancing in the club, I felt at ease and joyful, but when they see the police find their getaway vehicle, my stomach dropped as though I was about to be caught.
This single-shot method was perfect for the film because it is important for maintaining the emotional intimacy with Victoria’s character. The viewer is with Victoria from the moment she meets the guys, even when they are travelling from place to place, so the development of the friendship is organic and her willingness to help in the bank robbery becomes understandable. There was never any moment of the film that seemed disjointed because of this single-shot style; every single second was captured, so every moment felt natural.
It is easy to get lost in the film as lines between reality and fiction are blurred. The way Victoria feels becomes entrenched with the viewer’s emotions. When the guys run in to do the bank robbery, the camera is left on Victoria waiting in the car as getaway driver. The car seemingly dies and the panic that Victoria feels is immediately the same panic that the viewer feels. She has to tell Boxer the car is dead and it is one of the most terrifying seconds of the film because we feel the same fear Victoria has for Boxer. In addition to the single-shot style creating this feeling, the camera is always at eye-level with the characters and this puts the viewer in the same position as the group. It feels like you, as a viewer, are part of the heist as well.
The acting is also vital for this film’s realism. Costa was perfect as the innocent, trusting Victoria. Sonne, played by Lau, was charming, but rebellious and it was believable that Victoria would be attached to him. The dialogue from the film is for the most part all adlibbed, but that made the character’s conversations so realistic. Because of the single-shot there was no editing, but that makes it feel even more real. No scene is perfectly manipulated. In one of the more endearing scenes, Sonne tells Victoria that in Germany, it is illegal to talk in elevators. The two have a playful exchange while she tries to talk and he shushes her. It was obvious after he said that that her laugh was genuine and that she did not actually have anything planned to say. From the direction to the acting, this film is incredibly authentic.
Do not let the length or foreign language of this film stop you from seeing it. It is brilliantly acted, directed, and filmed. I have not seen a film that has compelled me the way Victoria has the whole way through. I found myself craving the same thrills that Victoria does and feeling the same buzz and panic that she feels. Everything about this film is unexpected and that is why it is so exciting. It will have you riveted every step of the way.