Director: Sebastian Schipper
Cast: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau and Franz Rogowski
Running Time: 138 minutes
Release Date: April 1st
Between 1994 and 1997, art house filmmaking split into two distinct entities, with the first noticeable shift coming when Pulp Fiction won the Palme D’Or at Cannes. Having scooped up the festival’s most prestigious award, while also being the first independent film to surpass $100m dollars at the US box office (and $213m globally), it both rejuvenated the mainstream thriller genre and served to validate the concept of an art house/genre film for other independent filmmakers.
This was significant because one year later, Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg went public with their Dogme 95 manifesto, in which they declared that to write within a genre was strictly forbidden should one wish to join the digital filmmaking revolution. Tarantino, the hot-shot bridge between art house and Hollywood was all of a sudden obsolete. Yet from this new split emerged Nicolas Winding Refn, whose debut film Pusher was a genre film that played up to many of the Dogme sensibilities.
Refn has been, for the duration of his career, committed to merging B-Movie Genre flicks with art house films, and this constant slog led to the financial and critical success of Drive in 2011. Though still quite early to say, the impact on contemporary art house that this work had is nearing irrefutable. Without Drive, there might not have been a Spring Breakers, a Nightcrawler, and there certainly would not have been a Victoria, which is the film up for review today.
The fourth feature-length film to be directed by Sebastian Schipper, Victoria is both the logical step in this evolution, while also being highly original in how it contributes new ideas to the art house action genre, by breaking apart the standard tropes and techniques of the traditional thriller. Filmed in a single take of about 140 minutes, it manages to create the intensity of a caper, without resorting to rapid cuts in order to keep your heart hammering away at a dangerous level.
At the same time, while technically challenging, the story is absurd, and can be summed up as this: What would happen if Gaspar Noe decided to make a film, based purely on the paranoid words of warning handed to a teenager by her over-protective parents. Murphy’s Law pure and simple, this is a heist gone wrong within a night on the town gone wrong within a student’s working holiday gone wrong, and yet, it works.
The story of the eponymous character, Victoria charts the misfortunate downfall of a highly sociable woman in her early twenties as she decides at 4am to exit the intense haze of a deep house club in Berlin. Hungry to converse with everybody and anybody, her need to be friends with the world becomes an issue after she begins to interact with four lads, all of whom have just been ejected from the same club.
With her being a sweet Spaniard, hailing from Madrid, and themselves delinquents well into their late twenties, the first concern is whether this woman, walking at home alone in the early hours is at risk of being attacked by these men, whose behaviour, though polite is equally suspicious. The long-take enhances this sense of dread, as the audience sits awaiting this most ominous of potential outcomes, which seems imminent, considering the film is highly reminiscent of Noe’s rape and revenge thriller Irreversible. Yet, she is never forced into having non-consensual sex, the only thing she is being forced to do is remain with them, despite her best efforts to head home and sleep. Almost Bunuelian here, the person physically unable to leave a situation, subsequent over-the-top scenarios do hark back to the surrealist auteur, as the plot swaps gritty urban realism for Spring Breakers hyper-realism.
The passing of this baton is testament to Schipper’s ability at both being subtle and unsubtle simultaneously. As we discover that these men are not malevolent, nevertheless they do have amongst them one man whose past mistakes led to his being incarcerated, and so, in the present he is in debt, having made avail of a gangster’s offer of protection while incarcerated.
Sadly, it is Victoria’s poor timing that has seen her stumble upon her new friends a few hours before they are expected to rob a private bank in order to hence, pay off this debt. Furthermore, because the five met in a club, the man intended as the getaway driver is worryingly incapacitated, which means the men are in need of a substitute for the intended theft.
With the details kept vague as they pitch to her their situation, in her continued naivety she agrees to help them out. So as the second act begins, this is the point, in actuality where Victoria no longer has any control over her life. As the heist pans out and goes horrendously awry, her once innocence is tainted and hence, between 4am and 7am, she has inadvertently transformed from a sweet, fun loving student into a scheming Gudrun Ensslin-type.
The moral of the story is quite basic: “Don’t go out to the club in a foreign country, kids, because you will end up entering the criminal underworld and be forced into life-compromising situations and when it’s all done, none of it will be fit to go on your CV”. It is utterly daft, but still, it works brilliantly as the European response to Spring Breakers.
Like The Walking Dead, in which, decent stories and fine characters can evolve, despite existing within a perpetual state of jumping the shark, Victoria follows a similar method of being one hundred percent nuts. If everything is too far-fetched, then nothing is, and because of this unending slew of capers, the action becomes mundane, yet the characters remain thoroughly interesting. That point needs emphasising, and the single take certainly contributes to how attached we become to Victoria by the end.
Since her life falls to pieces in real-time and we were there when the first seed was sown, witnessing it all through her eyes, exactly as she saw it, the ride feels extraordinarily real at certain times. This is precisely why Victoria succeeds, despite its utterly nonsensical premise. It renders absurdity into a tangible reality, deceiving audiences into believing that they are part of the chaos, and that is without question, the sure sign of proper cinema in play. You experience the constantly evolving journey, and come out with a sense of exhaustion, having forgotten for a short period, that you were staring at a screen all the while.