There may be a couple of spoilers in here, so if you haven’t seen the film Victoria and want to see it without knowing anything about it, reading a blog about it probably isn’t a very good idea. However, I’m not giving much away, I promise. I enjoyed it very much. It’s certainly a film that’s stayed with me.
I realise that I seldom go into a cinema knowing nothing about the film I’m about to see. Does it matter? I don’t know. I think it helps (me, at least) to know something, although if I do, I tend to find myself as the film progresses having to readjust from my preconceptions. Often of course you go to see a film because you like the idea of it. I went to see the German film “Victoria” (directed by Sebastian Schipper) knowing very little about it, except a couple of things. I knew that it was a heist thriller and I knew that it was all shot in one take.
This got me thinking: there’s a danger with this sort of thing that the technical prowess could be distracting or at least be the main point of the film, the story less important – e.g. Mike Figgis’s Timecode. If you strip away the single take element, the central premise of Victoria stands very well on its own – it’s a strong idea for a thriller and I’m sure it would have worked very well if it had been shot and edited in a more conventional manner.
However, knowing these two facts about the film mean that from the very beginning you feel nervous. The strict linearity of it is a compelling element in the unfolding story. I think in this case knowing that it’s all shot in one take adds to the intensity of the experience, and I think the constraints of this decision benefit the storytelling too. Rather than feeling distracted by the conceit, everything feels very immediate, your awareness heightened.
Wanting to learn a bit more about the film I looked at the IMDB page. Foolishly I also looked at the comments, and these have also got me thinking. I was baffled to see that some people objected to the film on the grounds of plausibility (a review I saw elsewhere also took this line). The objectors seemed to think ‘a woman’ wouldn’t behave like that – ie take the risk she takes in going off with the boys. To me this is just sexism – the inability of (let’s face it) men to imagine how a woman might behave. She’s not ‘a woman’, she’s THIS woman, and the film explains very clearly exactly why she behaves the way she does. In fact, the film is all about why she behaves that way. It’s not about all the other women who might have behaved differently, it’s about this story. Otherwise there wouldn’t have been a film. Criticisms have been levelled that the first hour meanders, but I disagree. You are gradually building up your understanding of who she is and why she behaves the way she does. Don’t be deceived by appearances.
Actually her story is incredibly touching, and it brings me to the other part of the equation in the plausibility issue – the scepticism about the risk she is taking seems to centre round the idea that these boys are bad news, that ‘a woman’ would never go off with these dangerous strangers. In this case I think it is a bit of classicism and racism. The boys are self-declared ‘true Berliners’. One of them (at least) is an East German, one of them is a Turkish immigrant (both probably second generation). They are clearly not part of the fashionable Berlin world. There is no doubt that they are petty criminals – she sees this right at the beginning, but she also sees them very soon after this at pains to avoid a fight. They are not thugs. They are also charming and funny and silly after a night out, not ready to go home. She makes a judgment. She knows very well what she is doing. And in terms of the story you never know quite where the inevitable danger lurks – from them or from her, or from somewhere else. This tension keeps up from the first five minutes until the very end.
It’s worth saying the performances are truly amazing, extremely naturalistic, it’s almost impossible to believe they did it all in three attempts and that the dialogue was largely improvised. The soundtrack is superb too from Nils Frahm – with a bit of DJ Koze in there for good measure.