Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Fokus opening night film Victoria
"Perhaps because of the improvisation - although surely they must have rehearsed like crazy - even when the plot threatens to become contrived, the characters remain true to themselves."

When you hear that the movie you're about to see was shot in a single take, it's hard not to fear a triumph of style over substance. Not only does Victoria director Sebastian Schipper avoid any of the CGI sleight of camera employed by Alejandro Innaritu's Birdman he even goes as far as to work the whole film - which clocks in at just over two hours - from only 12 pages of script, with the cast improvising much of the dialogue.

Incredibly, it not only works but benefits from the approach, which gives his thriller a fluid urgency and naturalism, particularly when it comes to the characters' relationships. Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen - who is having a good year courtesy of this and the Cannes Un Certain Regard winner Rams - manages to keep the camerawork measured and unflustered despite the fact that the characters are frequently captured on the move. The action never feels confined, with the 22 locations visited over the course of the real-time shoot - shot between around 4.30am and 7am on a single night in Berlin - well chosen and perfectly suited to the story.

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We meet Spaniard Victoria (Laia Costa) as she hedonistically dances the night away in a club (there's a considerable amount of strobe effect here which may make this unsuitable for susceptible audiences). Her character is economically sketched as a thrill-seeker through the dance, a willingness to talk to anyone and the selection of a large shot of booze over a small one, so it seems natural that she would be willing to strike up a conversation with a group of young guys she meets as she leaves the club. Immediately, we are wary, Sonne (Frederick Lau), Blinker (Burak Yigit) and Fuss (Max Mauff), Boxer (Franz Rogowski), are that dangerous mix of flirtatious and drunk. This is, after all, long past the witching hour, in the dead part of night where unexpected dangers lurk for those not asleep.

Schipper keeps us on our toes, however, as this quickly turns into a tipsy meet-cute for Sonne and Victoria, she easily convinced to join the lads on a nearby apartment roof to smoke weed. Some of this early conversation tends towards the rambling, but the firm establishment of the film's players pays off once the thriller elements begin to creep in. Sonne is a familiar type, part street punk, part charmer, whose slightly bungling English language overtures - most of the time the gang talk to Victoria in English - only serve to make him more attractive to her. Lau and Costa have plenty of spark and play their flirtation with a reticence that underlines just how young they are.

The freewheeling nature of this early dialogue makes the sudden need for the group to take Victoria on a side trip to meet a gangster (Andre Hennicke), whom Boxer is in hock to, all the more intense and worrying, especially when he calls in the favour. Detailing what happens next would be to spoil the sudden surge into thriller territory that brings the likes of Run Lola Run to mind. Suffice to say that as the gang find themselves on the wrong side of the law, things soon spin out of control.

Perhaps because of the improvisation - although surely they must have rehearsed like crazy - even when the plot threatens to become contrived, the characters remain true to themselves. They may be in extraordinary circumstances but they still have the same skill-set - Victoria, resourceful and Sonne relying on a combination of bravado and impetuousness - as they had in the more flirtatious setting. It is this essential believability which makes Schipper's film stand out. Victoria and Sonne look normal and have the stale air of all-night-clubbers who've been up too long. Both actors play conflicted emotions beautifully – from a look that is part awe, part desire, part sheepishness on the face of Lau as Sonne discovers Victoria can play the piano to Victoria's mix of desperation and determination as she commandeers an odd piece of cargo in a bid to get them out of danger later in the film. Schipper also makes good use of Nils Frahm's scoring, which adds to the mood, whether it is in its sweeping orchestral moments or pumping out rave beats. If the film's final moments seem almost inevitable, they are no less satisfying for that.

Reviewed on: 24 Nov 2015
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Victoria packshot
Adventures of a woman after she meets a group of young lads, over the course of a night.
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Director: Sebastian Schipper

Writer: Olivia Neergaard-Holm, Sebastian Schipper

Starring: Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Laia Costa, Max Mauff, Burak Yigit, Nadja Laura Mijthab

Year: 2015

Runtime: 140 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Germany


BIFF 2015
London 2015

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