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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Monday, September 05, 2016

Movie Review - Victoria

Victoria (2015)
Starring Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit, Max Mauff, and André M. Hennicke
Directed by Sebastian Schipper
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Told in one continuous 132 minute-long shot, Victoria is undoubtedly an ambitious filmmaking experiment.  Credit is most certainly due to director Sebastian Schipper and his whole behind-the-camera team for making this film visually work.  That said, while the long running time adds to the impressiveness of the cinematic feat, it also hampers a story that lingers too long on particular moments, lacking a momentum at times that feels crucial for a film that contains this plot.

And what is that plot?  The film centers around Victoria (Laia Costa), a young Spanish girl currently living in Berlin.  When the camera first captures her, Victoria is dancing alone in a rave-type club.  As she leaves onto the streets at night, she meets a young German man named Sonne (Frederick Lau) who has certainly had one too many drinks.  He and his three buddies convince Victoria to walk through the streets of Berlin as they drink and smoke and essentially act like a quartet of douchebags. Eventually Victoria and Sonne break away from the group and head to Victoria's work at a little coffee shop.  With it still being night, the shop is closed, but Victoria begins to open up to Sonne about the reasons she left Madrid and Sonne grows infatuated with her innocence and intelligence.  Unfortunately, their conversation comes to an abrupt end when Sonne receives a phone call from one of his buddies...and Victoria's night takes a turn she never could have expected.

I'm in a bit of a conundrum with Victoria because in some ways, I think that the slow build the film takes us on in the first hour paints a picture of our title character that the audience needs during the film's second hour.  Director Schipper does a fantastic job of placing the viewer in the shoes of Victoria, panning his camera around for us to see things from both her point of view and as that of the omniscient onlooker.  However, it just takes too long for things to get going here.  Quite frankly, Sonne's friends are so obnoxiously arrogant that I couldn't comprehend why anyone would want to spend time with them and for us to have to spend so much time with them grows tediously boring.  (Yes, I do think the character of Victoria may have wanted to have spent time with them, but as an audience member, I had no desire.)

There was a moment in that first hour where I almost hit the stop button.  I'm happy I didn't, though, because Victoria turns into a suspenseful thriller with a fantastic performance at its center from Laia Costa.  Costa's Victoria is in search of something -- Madrid signified her past and Berlin is perhaps her future and that is why this seemingly smart girl decided to hang out with a group of unintelligent frat boy-type guys for the evening.  At first, I couldn't comprehend why she would do such a thing, but as the film progressed, Ms. Costa really keyed me in as to why her character does what she does.  There's a moment in the first hour in which Victoria sits a piano and begins to break down -- it tells us everything we need to know about the character through very little dialog or action.  It's a rather beautiful scene because in its simplicity, so much is revealed.  And from that point on, the film hooked me with Costa carrying the piece on her shoulders and taking me along for the ride.

Victoria isn't an easy watch in that it's too long by about forty-five minutes and it just takes too long to get the ball rolling.  Also, I admittedly found myself pondering more than once about how dumb the majority of these characters were.  (That said, their idiocy as characters is mirrored in the plot as the film progresses and feels inherently believable -- I just couldn't get over their stupidity at times.)  However, if you stick it out, you're in for a fun thriller with a great performance at its center.  Plus, you'll get to see an impressive cinematic feat unfold in real time.  (As an added note, most of the film is in English!  Although there are some subtitles throughout, the film was actually unable to compete at the Oscars in the foreign film category because English is its dominant language.  So don't let the fear of subtitles scare you away.)

The RyMickey Rating:  B

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