You can never second-guess world cinema. Sebastian Schipper’s Victoriais an amazing fourth feature from a German with no history of humdingers. (A stodgy 2009 Goethe adaptation was his most-seen previous film at festivals.) Victoria doesn’t stop moving for 138 minutes and that’s literal. This headlong crime thriller-cum-romance was filmed — Schipper claims and who’s to disbelieve? — in a single take. There are no discernible cuts or edits as the Spanish girl of the title, stumbling out of a Berlin disco in early hours into the arms of four adrenalised youngsters, finds her own night being cut up into a bad dream. It’s a pell-mell plot, wonderfully acted. Its human moments, of vulnerability, gauche tenderness and the first stings of fateful love, are as powerful as its hellish ones.
Think of Sokurov’s Russian Ark, the last single-take film to sock our senses. Then compound that movie’s force with multiple characters and locations. Victoria swaggers or staggers through bars and streets; jumps into cars; criss-crosses a city; dives into dives; elevator-climbs hotels. Then comes the showdown between first light and last light, as violence cracks open the dawn, and death may be the only means by which this story can finally cry, “Cut”.
Laia Costa plays Victoria, the new girl in the old-new city, with the gawky, startled grace of a fledgling fallen, or falling, from its nest. Yet she’s a “tough chick” too: she parties, drinks, flirts. And she guides her night’s favourite, Sonne (Frederick Lau), through feelings, memories and revelations as the two hunker in the café where she works.
The film keeps changing direction or turning signposts, masterfully, as if licensed for plausibility by its own aesthetic continuity. Just when you don’t expect a dark dazzle of piano keys on a café bar’s upright as a mid-movie emotional cadenza, you get it. Then, after the Mephisto Waltz, comes the longer, scarier dance. Twist of the infernal; torque of the devil. It’s unnerving to be taken on a trip to crime-world hell and back, if not in a handcart, then with a handheld camera and a visual pledge of no ellipses or omissions.
Sturla Brandth Grøvlen was the film’s cinematographer. He deserves, if not a co-author credit, at least a place on the podium when prizes are handed out to this glittering meld of novelty styling and nightmare storytelling.