Victoria (2015) – DVD/Blu-Ray Review

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Victoria film 2015 by Sebastian SchipperThere is a time in everyone’s life when we reach a crossroads. Left or right. Good move or bad, we all have decisions to make. It’s these crossroads that are the focus of Sebastian Schipper’s technically marvellous film Victoria. Set over the course of the early hours of the morning in the rough end of Berlin, we meet Spanish pixie Victoria (Laia Costa) as she comes to many crossroads in her life. Left or right, good move or bad; this morning will dictate the rest of her life.

Personally speaking I believe the less you know about Victoria, the richer the experience. All that you need to know is that after a lonely, booze fuelled night in an underground German club, Victoria emerges above ground and is swooned by dangerous hunk Sonne (Frederick Lau) and his colourful gang of Droogs – Boxer, Blinker, and Fuß. Despite the underlying air of tension that hangs over the situation, Victoria decides to follow them into the night and into Berlin’s seedy underbelly.

What’s more important about Victoria is the elephant in the room. From the reviews at last years Toronto Film Festival and following coverage of Victoria, the number one talking point (some may say gimmick) is the way Schipper chose to tell his story. With a running time of two hours (and some small change) the film is shot in a single take. Unlike Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s astoundingly manic and often frantic Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), where the film subtly blended long takes to frame the movie in one long take, Victoria was executed in one long take (the second of three takes, if you where curious). With the intimate moments of the movie feeling naturalistic in their approach, the real impressiveness of Victoria is the latter half of the movie where everything hits that fan.

The amount of preparation and timing that Schipper’s team must have undertaken makes one woozy to contemplate. The intricacies of the narrative speak volumes to Schipper’s craft as a filmmaker, with only three other movies under his belt. This aspect alone shouldn’t carry a film however. James Cameron was banking on his technical craft when undertaking the Avatar movie but few may recall the actual point of the movie. With that extremely impressive one shot take aside, how does the movie stack up?

Victoria movie 2015 by Sebastian SchipperIt’s a mixed bag in all honesty. The opening hour of the film evokes a heavy sense of a European Richard Linklater movie as Victoria wanders the streets with her newly found German friends. Sitting on a roof discussing life or wandering the streets looking for a way to get lit did remind me of Linklater’s seemingly easy approach to establishing characters. However, the latter half of Victoria descends into a Michael Mann-esque nightmare, which never relinquishes its grip. With the one shot framework of the movie, the events that take place later on in the film had me absolutely gripped.

With the frantic pace and ramping narrative it certainly captures your attention. Victoria’s character is absolutely paramount to get right if the film if it is to work and Laia Costa does a fantastic job. The right or left decisions she undertakes in the course of the two hours left me screaming at the screen. Her emotional scale bounces up and down, which is even more impressive as everything took place in one take. Once again I feel compelled to mention the framework of the film.

Other performances from Sonne, Boxer, and Blinker also felt very natural and often time tense as an overwhelming sense of dread creeps in early on. Near the beginning, Victoria tells Sonne that she has only lived in Berlin for the last six months leaving her feeling isolated. This isolation is key to Victoria’s character and motivation. Victoria is a stranger to the city and Sonne is a troublemaker reaching out.

Perhaps it made sense narratively to isolate Victoria’s character from her surroundings but it is very apparent that Berlin itself is the fifth lead character in the film. Everything, especially the numerous locations in which the characters move within, feels important and adds a special spatial dimension to that movie which normally would be completely undermined in the typical aspect of movie making. By comparison, in Birdman (once more) the location felt more dreamlike as the characters moved around the labyrinth environment as opposed to the more natural approach to location in Victoria.

The DVD presentation is simple but a good package nonetheless. With audio commentary from Sebastian Schipper, casting scenes, and camera tests I was thoroughly interested in seeing how the production of Victoria was undertaken. Overall Victoria is a technically impressive and often gripping movie. Despite its impressive execution I felt that the running time could certainly have been a lot shorter. Personally I thought that Schipper felt more passionate about the opening hour and naturalistic narrative approach over the anxiety driven action packed second half. Either way, Victoria stands out as an impressive achievement.

Victoria is out on Blu-Ray and DVD from May 23.

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Whilst swinging from trees of the independent filmmaking world is only a part time pursuit - now it’s other jungles this Gorilla pursues. Oliver began writing film reviews for his universities newspaper before graduating in Film & TV Production.

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