Germany. Directed by Sebastian Schipper, 2015. Starring Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit, Max Mauff. 138 minutes.
I find myself asking the question: when is a movie gimmick not a gimmick? It’s a question I find myself contemplating when I think about Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria. You’ve probably heard of this one–it’s the movie shot entirely in a single take, almost two hours and twenty minutes long.
The film follows Laia Costa as the title character, a young Spanish woman recently transplanted to Berlin, where she doesn’t have any friends. She meets some German guys at a nightclub and really hits it off with them, particularly the smitten Lonne (Frederick Lau), and hangs out with them for a while. It soon turns out that Boxer (Franz Rogowski) is an ex-convict and owes a favor to someone who protected him in prison, which is how he ends up enlisting his friends, and by extension Victoria, in a scheme to rob a bank.
The answer to my question about film gimmicks is, of course, is that it’s not a gimmick when it’s the entire point of the film. Just like Richard Linklater’s Boyhood would be much less impressive if he recast roles and used aging makeup instead of stretching the shoot across a decade-plus, a conventionally-made version of Victoria would be so banal it wouldn’t be much worth watching. It’d just be another movie about a bunch of overconfident, impulsive twenty-somethings who do something stupid and find themselves in way over their heads.
So doing a movie with a story like this as one long take seems like a fantastic idea, and indeed Victoria has received a lot of praise for doing what it does. If it works for you, great. It doesn’t work for me, because I found so much of it achingly dull, particularly the first hour or so of the film, in which Victoria and the boys get to know each other. I’m all for long, slow-moving films when things actually seem to happen or mean something or I can at least trust that the filmmakers aren’t wasting my time.
But in the lead-up to the heist, which doesn’t even earn a mention until forty-five to sixty minutes into the movie, the movie lost me. I assume Schipper intended this as character development, but there really isn’t all that much character to develop: Victoria and Boxer are the only characters who seem to have any, well, character, and even then there isn’t much to work with. For all the dialog (apparently improvised), nobody really seems to have anything to say.
When everything starts going south, I don’t really care because I haven’t built up an emotional connection to the characters except Victoria. Costa holds a lot of the film together with her wide-eyed charm, but it only goes so far and there’s so much to hold together. I’ve heard a lot of people call this movie a thriller, and I can’t imagine a less appropriate designation. Thrillers have twists and turns and…well…thrills. Victoria just shuffles around Berlin even when it feels like it’s running.
As an experiment it intrigues, but to my mind, it ultimately falls flat. Enough people have liked it that I hesitate to refuse to recommend it at all; it might very well be your thing. But you definitely need to know what you’re in for before you start watching.
My rating: 4 of 10.