Victoria (2015)

Poster for Victoria

Victoria is a bit of a gimmick. Basically it’s presented as one long handheld take as it follows a young Spanish woman named Victoria, who is living in Berlin for three months and stumbles upon four German men who invite her to join their birthday party. Victoria is a free spirit, and she lets herself get swept away, eventually finding herself in a very dangerous, even deadly, situation.

I had mixed feelings about the film as it unfolded over two-plus hours. It’s a bravura piece of work, no doubt about it, moving around the city and through a lot of different story situations without any obvious breaks. No doubt it was carefully planned out and rehearsed, but there are still some surprising and impressive moments, as when one of the characters suddenly starts playing Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz” on the piano. However, there’s also quite a lot of what feels like ad libbed dialogue (although possibly it’s written dialogue imitating the repetitive nature of real conversation) that I found pretty boring. Most of the characters didn’t seem all that interesting, with the exception of Victoria and the troubled Boxer. The main male character and love interest, Sonne, was too much of a cypher. That may have been a comment on Victoria’s questionable choices, but it ended up making it difficult to care.

The film takes a long time to get to the crime thriller part of the story, and I’m honestly not sure why. If it’s trying to establish characters and the fact that carefree choices can lead to an existential crisis, I’d say it could have been done in a far shorter time. So I guess over all it felt flabby to me, even though it kept hitting interesting notes. The piano piece and the life story that follows it are great, and I wouldn’t have wanted to lose that, for sure. Some of the flabbiness was probably the result of everything happening in real time as they move from place to place, creating a need to fill that time with something, which ended up mostly being a lot of idle, meandering, pointless chatter.

Still an interesting experiment, even if what it proves is that it’s hard to tell a strong story on film without editing. I was struck a number of times by the idea that it was the film equivalent of a live play, but even live plays almost always have breaks and transitions in the stories. Birdman used a similar gimmick, but it did have several points at which the camera stopped and the action jumped over a passage of time.

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