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by Jay Seaver

"Almost as impressive in execution as it is in logistics."
4 stars

In certain hands, "Victoria" might just have been an impressive achievement in logistics for hitting an ambitious set of marks as a single-shot, real-time thriller. It winds up being a fair bit better than that, even if there are moments when one might wish that that there was a bit more than an editor could do for it.

It starts out in a Berlin nightclub, where the girl of the title (Laia Costa) seems to be enjoying herself despite not picking up a whole lot of German in the three months she's been living there. As she's leaving, a group of four locals are being denied entry. One, Sonne (Frederick Lau), seems to really like her, so she hangs out with him, Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit), and Fuss (Max Mauff) for a bit. Soon after they part ways so that she can get to her day job, the guys wind up needing help - Boxer owes a gangster (André Hennicke) a favor, and Fuss is in no position to do his part. Which is how Victoria winds up driving the getaway car as they rob a private bank at daybreak.

The gimmick for Victoria is that the whole 134 minutes of action is one single shot, making those of us not exceptionally well-versed in film production wonder just what credited editor Olivia Neergaard-Holm did beyond deciding how to fade in at the beginning and out at the end. It would be a heck of an accomplishment if the characters stayed in one place, but they get in and out of cars to travel between a half-dozen locations in the city. As much as I wonder if this would be consciously or subconsciously appreciated by those unaware of the technique going in, it's hard not to appreciate the marathon work of the cast and crew once you are aware.

There are trade-offs to be made, though - as much as there is a certain tension to knowing that the camera is not going to stray far from Victoria, meaning the audience is as in the dark about anything which happens off-screen as she is, there are also moments when it's just not possible for said camera to clearly capture everything director Sebastian Schipper wants the audience to see. For every bit of authenticity that the mostly-improvised interactions display, there are moments that drag out as the actors fill time or just don't find something interesting to talk about. There are moments when ambition is clearly pared back to accommodate filming practicalities.

The group of guys Victoria meets up with are a watchable group, with Frederick Lau fittingly getting the most time to make an impression and seeming the most conflicted as Sonne. Given that he's mostly playing the character in some sort of altered state - drunk to start and pulled in some other direction later - over a tight timeframe, it's impressive how much of a sense of the guy we get despite the story being very straight-ahead. The others are relatively nondescript, but fit their parts well enough.

The best reason to watch this film, though, is Victoria herself; there are a couple of obvious moments early on clearly meant to indicate that she may be braver and more capable than the men around her, but the obviousness of it doesn't make the inevitable turn where she takes direct control of the action any less exciting or entertaining. Laia Costa handles everything thrown at her over the two-and-a-quarter hours with aplomb, grabbing the audience's favor from the start and does good work fleshing the character out as the movie goes on, making both panic and fierceness equally engaging.

I suspect "Victoria" will play better to those who spend a lot of time in movie theaters than those who are just looking for a good thriller. It's one of those, certainly, with a pretty terrific lead performance by Ms. Costa, and you cannot help but admire the technique if nothing else.

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originally posted: 10/26/15 15:45:40
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Berlin Film Festival For more in the 2015 Berlin Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2015 Fantastic Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2015 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2015 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.

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  09-Oct-2015 (NR)
  DVD: 08-Mar-2016

  29-Apr-2016 (15)

  09-Oct-2015 (MA)
  DVD: 08-Mar-2016

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