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Sleeper of the Week: Sebastian Schipper’s ‘Victoria’

Sleeper of the Week: Sebastian Schipper's 'Victoria'

Sleeper of the Week takes a film that only few critics have seen and shines some light on it.

Dir: Sebastian Schipper
Criticwire Average: A-

Sebastian Schipper’s one-take thriller “Victoria” follows the titular character (Laia Costa), a Spanish girl who has recently moved to Berlin, as she’s thrown into a world of crime after meeting four men out while clubbing. Sonne (Frederick Lau) and his three friends initially seem like kind, fun people who want to show Victoria the breadth of Berlin, but later in the night, they reveal to her that they’re planning to rob a bank and they need her help. Schipper shoots the film in one continuous take, following similar one-take films like “Birdman,” which provides “Victoria” with some stylistic tension. However, critics are split on the film in general. Some found it to be a thrilling experience, others found it gimmicky and tired, especially the film’s second half. “Victoria” opens in second theaters today.

More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:

Gregory Ellwood, HitFix

Hands down one of the best films of the year, Sebastian Schipper has directed a one-shot film that is truly a captivating cinematic experience. It begins and ends with Victoria (an incredible Laia Costa), a twentysomething Spanish woman living in Berlin. When she leaves the local dance club she runs into Sonne (an impressive Frederick Lau) and his friends. Sonne is entranced by Victoria and unwittingly pulls her into a sketchy job his buddy Boxer (Franz Rogowski) desperately needs his help with. Things take a very dramatic turn, but Schipper and his actors make it feel incredibly real with an intensity so strong you may be squirming in your seat. Read more.

Nigel M. Smith, The Guardian

Shot continuously for over two hours in 22 locations, from 4:30am onwards, Victoria asks a lot of its cast, who improvised all of the dialogue based on a bare-bones script. They all tear into the experiment with abandon. Costa, especially, is remarkable: going from carefree to shellshocked over the course of one life-altering morning, she doesn’t strike a false note, serving as the eyes and ears of the audience on the hellish journey. She also lends the project enormous heart, particularly when the devastating conclusion comes into play. Despite the strong performances, it’s Schipper’s single-shot conceit – and the fact that he and his team pulled it off with aplomb – that makes Victoria such a bracing triumph. While the entire enterprise is inarguably a stunt, Victoria manages to overwhelm in ways that few films do. Read more.

Guy Lodge, Variety

Working from a bare-bones script that calls for entirely improvised dialogue, Schipper and his team have devised a high-concept romp that nonetheless says something rather delicate and touching about feckless generational ennui and transnational loneliness: As a study of the youthful desire for connection in the up-all-night urban playground of Berlin, “Victoria” works as a jumped-up companion piece to Jan-Ole Gerster’s more modestly scaled 2012 hit “Oh Boy.” Led by the thoroughly winning Costa and Lau, the ensemble rises to task with their plausible, frequently witty off-the-cuff chatter. (Hennicke, meanwhile, comes up with a ludicrous villainous imperative — “Download, bitch!” — that Hollywood scriptwriters will surely wish to borrow.) Still, it’s virtuoso d.p. Sturla Brandth Grovlen (unusually but perhaps appropriately billed ahead of the helmer in the closing credits) who should take the most extended bow for this madcap gambit coming off as well as it does. Shooting on grainy, rough-and-ready digital that proves happily equal to the film’s athleticism, Grovlen tracks events and expressions with equal care and fluidity, not permitting the central gimmick to excuse any compositional carelessness. In the absence of an editor, moreover, his camera is chiefly responsible for conducting the pace and flow of the action, and shifts register accordingly with that of the film — attentively circling characters in intimate interior scenes before giving way to agitated hand-held panic when the chips are truly down. Read more.

Farran Smith Nehme, New York Post

For a long stretch this movie plays well. Quiet moments, such as when Victoria plays a piano waltz and reveals herself to have a concert-level talent, have a feel for urban yearning. Costa is appealing; it’s a pleasure to watch her brush her teeth in real time. The limits of the conceit become plain when the heist happens, goes awry, and devolves into jittery pans and a whole lot of shouting, mostly things like “Shut the [expletive] up!” Editors, and screenwriters, surely aren’t obsolete yet. Read more.

Mike D’Angelo, The A.V. Club

Shooting an entire feature film continuously, without a single cut, is a dumb idea. It was a dumb idea 67 years ago, when Alfred Hitchcock attempted to create the illusion of having done so in “Rope” (hiding the necessary edits by zooming into actors’ backs), and it’s still a dumb idea today, when lightweight video cameras make the feat genuinely possible. Even when it’s done with a sense of purpose — the best-justified example is probably Alexander Sokurov’s “Russian Ark” (2002), a whirlwind historical tour of the Hermitage Museum — it’s still fundamentally a gimmick, calling undue attention to its own virtuosity. (That’s especially true of “Birdman,” which pointlessly fakes a single-shot technique despite taking place over several weeks.) “Victoria,” a German thriller that unfolds in a single shot lasting two hours and 13 minutes, is even emptier than most such efforts. Director Sebastian Schipper and his heroic cinematographer/camera operator, Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (the latter gets top billing in the closing credits, appropriately) successfully mount a production that wanders all over a couple of Berlin neighborhoods, and the result is a logistical triumph. Good luck finding any point of interest other than marveling at the technical achievement, however. The film is certainly impressive, but “impressive” and “great” (or even “good”) aren’t remotely the same thing. Read more.

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