Originally posted 2015 | Review by Amelia McConville
Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria premiered in the Berlinale-Palast theatre, just off the high-rise bustle of Potsdamer Platz, at the heart of Berlin, a fitting location for a film that immerses itself so fully in the city. Yet ‘Victoria’ presents to us an even more intense experience of the many-sided Berlin that enthrals, dazzles, frightens, and above all dares us to deny its authenticity.
We follow Victoria, a young Spanish woman who has moved to Berlin, as she dances alone in a nightclub. She befriends a group of young German men; Sonne, Boxer, Blinker and Fusse, walks with them, steals beers, and winds up on a rooftop in the early hours of the morning, amid cries of ‘We are the real Berliners!’. She is accompanied home by Sonne, where they flirt endearingly before being summoned away by Boxer, as the film takes its darker and more tense turn into thriller territory. Mere description in words cannot ever do justice to the searingly beautiful way that these at first unremarkable events are rendered by the talent of the actors, the ambitiously perfect camerawork, and the characterisation of the city itself.
Victoria is shot all in one take, and achieves what the excellent but vainglorious ‘Birdman’ never could, a complete and utter authenticity of both form and content. The camerawork is seamless, it is nigh-on impossible to discern where any editing has been done, and the illusion of real-time is so perfect that it feels utterly believable that the sequence of events really does unfold within the 140 minute running time. The pacing is masterful, at no point do you question the timing of events, and truly extraordinary is the way that it captures without cuts the flow of a night out that continues on through the early hours of the morning. The dialogue in the film was mostly improvised and takes place in a touchingly authentic blend of broken English and German, which feels the furthest thing from forced, as does the tender flirting between Victoria and Sonne. That the film manages to make space to breathe and touch gently on backstories whilst never losing its forward momentum, is more praise to join the lengthening list.
The film’s execution is sufficiently impressive, but even more so is the scope of the themes it explores, an entire family dynamic is created over the course of one night that feels more genuine than some portrayals of a lifetime of familial relations do on film. ‘Victoria’ deals with isolation, naivety, displacement and most importantly with modern Berlin itself as a complex and evolving city. The film is an authentic contemporary love-letter to the city, not least because of its warts and all honesty. It allows the beautiful and the terrible to co-exist, and explores the trajectory of a relationship that unfolds over one night in the city in the most heartrendingly beautiful way. Without ever sacrificing its verisimilitude, it even finds room for humour amid its meditations on love and loyalty.
In every possible aspect, Victoria is masterfully executed. The score is utilised perfectly, the minimalistic music propels the film forward and is allowed to take over in scenes of extreme emotion. Original compositions by German composer Nils Frahm blend the classical and the electronic to express the multifaceted city and the title character in the most hauntingly apt way. To watch the film’s premiere in Berlin, to hear richly deserved thunderous applause from the crowd of perhaps a thousand strong for the director, actors and production team, was a privilege. The undisputed highlight of the Berlinale 2015, watching the film in the city that it is so beholden to, as it makes its first of many, many waves yet to come.