“Victoria” is a tale of two halves. The title character, an infectious young Spanish girl (Laia Costa) with a knack for the piano and playful flirtation, offers one direction. The backdrop of Berlin, where a group of Russian men pressure her into committing a criminal act, provides the other. Both wildly opposing in the genres they insinuate, but somehow fused together to make one of the more intriguing cinematic experiments in recent memory.
Opening on the stutter of a nightclub dance floor, the film instantly primes the viewer for a bizarre tumble down the rabbit hole of back alleys abroad. Costa, radiant as a schoolgirl on Sunday, bumps into scruffy local Sonne (Frederick Lau) attempting to get in. And, as the evening gradually slows to a whisper of after hour confessions, the scenes between her and Lau’s character are adorable in their awkward sincerity. A sincerity that’s immediately betrayed when Sonne sweet talks her into being the getaway driver for a “little errand” downtown. Quite jarringly, the picture takes an unadvised U-turn towards the embassy of international film noir — completely shifting gears for an audience that will either love it or hate it.
The actual crime isn’t even shown onscreen, but rather from the artsy perspective of Victoria, in a scene that mirrors noir classic “Gun Crazy” (1950). The resulting fall from grace, however, is front and center, punctuated by brief moments of bliss that soon turn tragic. Costa remains the film’s MVP, but by story’s end, she’s no longer the precious flower viewers initially fell in love with. She’s succumbed to being as wilted as the sour souls that surround her, and that; in true noir essence, is a tragedy far worse than death.
What I’ve neglected to mention thus far, and what has most cinephiles buzzing about the film, is that it was filmed entirely in one take on the morning of April 27, 2014. Not a single cut or camera trick for over two hours, traveling through buildings, street corners and espresso shops with each character — a colossal achievement. Cinematographer and cameraman Sturla Brandth Grovlen is a man among men for his sheer physical stamina, as is director Sebastian Schipper, who rolled the dice on a script that was largely improvised and shot all the way through three times.
The sheer gimmickry of it will bring out droves of naysayers, who will critique the importance placed on “spectacle” over content — and to an extent, they’re right. “Victoria” could’ve potentially been a stronger narrative with less dead time and more edits. But do we really want to discourage those that are brave enough to break the mold of monotony? My vote is for no, and hopefully after watching this quirky little love noir, moviegoers will be apt to agree.
Danilo Castro is a resident of Oro Valley and writer for the Film Noir Archive blog at www.filmnoirarchive.com