Thursday, November 12, 2015

Victoria (opens in Cleveland November 13th exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theatre)

[VICTORIA opens in Cleveland on Friday November 13th exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theatre.]

Review by Pamela Zoslov

“One City. One Night. One Take,” announces the poster for the German movie VICTORIA. Sebastian Schipper, the German director and co-writer, is the latest filmmaker to attempt the “one-take” film, supposedly made in one long, continuous take without cuts or edits. In the age of digital cameras, this is less a technical feat than when Alfred Hitchcock used it in the 1948 ROPE, in which he had to focus on the back of an actor's suit coat while changing film reels. But it still is a dizzying experience, and perhaps more exciting for the actors and cameraman than for the viewer. (THE RUSSIAN ARK in 2002 also was shot in a single take, to not terribly interesting effect.)

Schipper, an actor known for his roles in RUN LOLA RUN and THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR, says his intention was “to make a film about a bank robbery as exciting as an actual bank robbery.” So the film is composed of a single, unbroken 130-minute shot, following the eventful hours before and after a climactic bank heist in Berlin.

Victoria (Laia Costa), a young woman from Madrid, meets a group of young men hanging around a club where she's danced into the early morning hours. They laugh and flirt and tease, stealing beer from a shop where the clerk is asleep and sneaking onto a building rooftop to smoke and party. Victoria is charmed by these rogues, even the skinheaded Boxer (Frank Rogowski), an ex-con who who says he once “hurt a guy very bad.” Sonne (Frederick Lau) is attracted to the cute, gamine Victoria. He bicycles her to her job at a cafe, where they have a sweetly flirtatious tête-a-tête. Victoria sits at the piano and plays a surprisingly intense “Mephisto Waltz” as Sonne looks on in awe. In the only bit of biography the film allows a character, Victoria reveals that she was a music conservatory student who fled that life because of the stress and competitiveness. (How she ended up pulling cappuccinos in Berlin we do not know.)

Because Boxer owes a favor to a man who protected him in prison, he's enlisted his friends to accompany him on an unspecified mission. Sonne persuades Victoria to come along and she, apparently hungry for adventure, volunteers to drive. The mission turns out to be a major bank robbery, and the crew, reluctantly and under armed threat, carry it out. This is no DOG DAY AFTERNOON – we never see inside the bank but instead stay with Victoria, who waits in the stolen car and panics when it stalls just before their escape. This is where the silliness of the linear “one-take” method becomes evident. A view inside the bank, where the action is, would seem in order here.

Nonetheless, the vertiginous camera captures the excitement following the successful heist, which quickly turns to panic as the robbers try to elude police. Elation turns to tragedy (with a lowercase “t”), and people die, though we never really knew them anyway.

The process by which the movie was made is significantly more impressive than the movie. Schipper, cast and crew actually shot the film three times before arriving at the final version. Much of the dialogue was improvised (and sounds like it), as the original script was only 12 pages long. Given its limitations, this is a film that would have worked better as a 30-minute short.

In the mania to accomplish this technical high-wire act, Schipper neglected the necessity of a substantive script. The characters are no more than sketches. Why in heaven's name, for instance, would ex-conservatory pianist Victoria jump enthusiastically into a dangerous bank robbery, even when given the chance to refuse? At least Hitchcock's Rope, similarly hampered by the one-take gimmick, was girded by a well-written screenplay. 2 3/4 out of 4 stars.

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