Saturday, October 7, 2017

Reservoir Hunde

Films: Victoria
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve been ignoring the latest version of the 1001 Movies list for too long; the last movie I removed from those remaining was Moonlight, and that was almost three weeks ago. I figured I should get to the ones I could get to while they were still easily available on NetFlix streaming. Of the two currently streaming that I need to see, Victoria, which is longer and at least marginally in German, seemed the bigger commitment. Since work is going to get a little harrier in coming weeks, I figured now was the time.

The draw of Victoria is that it was done in a single long take that runs over two hours across a number of different locations across Berlin. The single take film has been done before, of course. Hitchcock faked it with Rope; Russian Ark is a single take shot through the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and involves massive costuming, sets, and orchestras, and Mike Figgis did it four times over with Timecode. Victoria Is perhaps less technically impressive than Timecode, but uses real locations and uses a lot of them.

This is pretty important. The project was so ambitious that director Sebastian Schipper made a back-up version of long takes edited together to look like a single take. He was given three chances for the long-take version; the released version of the film is the third and final attempt. Victoria moves from a crowded club to a rooftop to a parking garage to a bank, back to the club, the streets of Berlin, an apartment building, a taxi, and then a hotel without a single edit. It was also apparently mostly adlibbed, with a script that ran a mere 12 pages.

The story is a simple one, and in many ways it needed to be because of all of the other considerations of the film. Victoria (Laia Costa) is a Spanish emigre to Berlin, having come to the city just three months previous. After spending a night drinking and dancing at a club, she meets a quartet of men roughly her own age. These men are Sonne (Frederick Lau), Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit), and Fuss (Max Mauff).

The four invite Victoria back to their rooftop. She goes despite needing to open the café where she works in a couple of hours. She and Sonne steal some beer from a shop and they head to the roof. After a few minutes, she heads to work and Sonne goes with her. The two talk a bit and Sonne leaves, telling her that he needs to do a favor for Boxer. A few minutes later, all four show up at the café with a problem.

It turns out that Boxer did some time in prison, where he was protected by a man named Andi (Andre Hennicke). Now Andi wants payment for services rendered, and what he’s decided he wants is 10,000€. More specifically, he wants Boxer to rob a private bank of 50,000€, giving him 10 and allowing Boxer and his associates to keep the other 40. The problem is that Fuss has become so drunk that he’s non-functional. Desperate, they ask Victoria to help, and despite having just met them, she agrees to be their driver.

It’s not much of a spoiler to suggest that things don’t really go according to plan. If it did, there wouldn’t be much of a movie. In that respect, Victoria owes a great deal to a film like Reservoir Dogs, although there’s a lot less violence and gunplay in this one. We’re not going to get a happy ending here, and we’re not going to get anything like a final resolution.

Victoria manages to get a lot right and a lot wrong, which is kind of to be expected from an experiment like this. The problems come (for me) almost entirely in the lack of script. While that adds a sense of realism to what happens, it also means that a hell of a lot of the dialogue doesn’t really go anywhere and there are a lot of repeated lines. There’s a good deal of simple nonsense in what is said a lot of the time, and, especially early on, much of the dialogue seems to be the various characters shouting each other’s names a lot. The conversations that do happen very much stay on the surface and don’t go anywhere.

I think this is a function of the way the film was made. Since everything is done in a single take, there would be a certain fear in screwing up the take an hour in, which clearly caused the actors to play things a little safer conversationally. I get it, but it also clearly affects the final result.

On the other hand, it features an absolutely monster performance from Laia Costa, who rides an emotional roller coaster in the film’s two hours and does so believably. She is absolutely the best part of the film, and as the character who is on camera for most of the running time, almost all of the success the film has depends on her performance, and to a lesser extent, that of Frederick Lau, who becomes more likable and interesting as the film plays out. What the film does more than anything is give us a portrait of Victoria herself, a woman who is so displaced and alone that she is willing to commit a crime just to feel something like a human connection with someone else.

Victoria is impressive and intense, and a little overwhelming. Something like this can only be done with a handheld camera (I would imagine the logistics for that were quite complicated in many cases), and so I’ll admit that the shaky-cam got to me. But that aside, it’s hard not to call this a noteworthy achievement in many respects.

Why to watch Victoria: It’s technically impressive.
Why not to watch: A lot of shaky-cam and a lot of shouting.


  1. I'm not sure Birdman AND Victoria need to be in the 1001 book, both pretty much present the same shot-in-one-take visual approach. (Birdman cheated in that regard, I know)
    While it probably doesn't have the depth of Birdman, I prefer Victoria, a gripping story and agree Laia Costa does great work. I did sense she was heading for trouble by mixing with those shady types, though I didn't guess what that trouble would be. I think you're right that their company made her feel less alone. I just visited Berlin, so curious to give this a rewatch.

    1. As a movie, I preferred Birdman. As a piece of technical ingenuity, Victoria really is impressive and worth seeing. I found it exhausting, though. There's so much repetition of words, so much conversation that doesn't go anywhere because of that idea of not wanting to spoil the take an hour in. I think it's impressive, but also exhausting.

      I get the point of it, but there's a lot of places that, in a more standard film, would be edited out because they're just minutes of filler.