One take, 138 minutes. From a strobe-lit club to a pale Berlin dawn, Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria plays out in real time over the course of a single eventful night.
Twenty-something Spanish barista Victoria (Laia Costa), drinking alone at a bar, hooks up with a gang of happy-go-lucky chancers, including punch-drunk Brando-alike Sonne (Frederick Lau). Shipper’s camera — operated by the film’s industrious cinematographer, Sturla Brandth Grøvlen — trails them through the city streets; Victoria, the ambiguously romantic Sonne, shave-headed Boxer (Franz Rogowski), motorcycle-jacketed Blinker (Burak Yiğit), and scampish Fuß (Max Mausch). Less akin to a thriller than Before Sunrise, Victoria seems to be presenting a snapshot of one adventurous evening. That is before our playful, enigmatic protagonist more or less volunteers to help out on a shady-sounding assignment when one of the team is left hors de combat.
Even the three men find themselves enacting a robbery scenario in an underground car park and blonde gangster Andi (André Hennicke) — mainly notable for his resemblance to the late Richard Harris — is threatening to hold “the bitch” as collateral, Victoria keeps it together. Even when the bullets eventually start flying, and the quad are diving for cover, she remains cool-headed. The lack of believability in her transformation from hapless civilian to effective criminal somewhat undermines the sheer technical prowess on display — at one point we follow the crew up a ladder onto a rooftop. The performances are so of the moment, though, and feel increasingly authentic as exhaustion sets in. Veering from exuberant to downbeat, the film combines intoxicated social realism with a heist rivalled only by Reservoir Dogs.
The shallow focus may leave you queasy and things take longer to play out than strictly necessary — there’s more than one protracted elevator journey — but Victoria is inarguably impressive, if only that.