Victoria, at first glance, reeks of gimmickry. A whopping 140 minute running time, boasting that the entire film is shot in one continuous take, you can't help but assume that it's going to be an excruciating slog through a slice of a boring person's life. Victoria is one of the most exciting and impressive narrative films in the Sydney Film Festival. It's an exceptional feat of choreography and engineering. A full two hours of unfolding action, across a myriad of locations and time to know and care about the consequences to the characters. The performances are a completely different kind of incredible. Laia Costa's titular Victoria and Frederick Lau's Sonne are just a sensational pair. Costa yearns for a connection. She's an alien resident in a socially unforgiving Berlin. Her dreams have been paused and the most significant connection that she's making requires leaps into the most hostile unfamiliar. She cuts an infuriating path between naivety and self-assurance; you don't know whether to admire her ingenuity and assertiveness or to slap her for being so damned accommodating. Lau is just cool and charming as hell as Sonne. Thick with the haze of alcohol he's still got all the faculties to be witty and flirtatious with Victoria. When he sees the negligence of his friends behaviour that eventually drags this innocent into some extremely high stakes danger his morality stays firm and although he has to ask her for help, he silently implores her to say no. He's such a playful character that opens to reveal sensitivity and unparalleled sacrificial loyalty.
Lau and his trio of counterparts Franz Rogowski's Boxer, Burak Yigit's Blinker and Max Mauff's Fuß all should be commended for playing extremely convincing drunken louts. Mauff's Fuß is belligerent from the moment he enters the film and if I didn't know what a wildcard or liability that a drunken performer could have been on a production, you could have sold me on it. Yigit's Blinker is a loose and crazy figure until the stakes are raised and you the scaffolding that he's assembled to display that carefree attitude collapse and reveal a sensitive and fragile young man. Rogowski's Boxer is as unpredictable as a caged animal. An ex-con who has finally been reunited with his childhood friends, struggling to contain his reflective violence that was probably responsible for his stint in prison and further cultivated inside. Boxer has that sociopathic protectiveness of his inner circle until they jeopardise his commitment to him. Rogowski has the look of a thick chested brawler his a head like a bald eagle. He doesn't hesitate to get in the face of Sonne when things aren't going to plan.
Victoria's at it's most impressive the fiercer and faster external factors impact the characters. Unlike a play, which can be unfolding calmly and gracefully on the stage while there's a torrent of chaos and activity, director Sebastian Schipper and his team had to remain perfectly concealed and drop into the action out of view to make that deft and unseen touch to maintain the momentum and authenticity of the action. In addition, director Sebastian Schipper has a wonderful sense of when to fade out of the incidental sounds unfolding around the characters into a swelling score. It's a post-production decision that doesn't jeopardise the performers being knocked out of the moment because this is where the score will be. There's also an incredible cafeteria scene where Sonne (Lau) and Victoria (Costa) have a conversion beside a piano. Sonne bumbles and mistimes a riff and jokes that he's a descendent of Mozart. When Victoria loads up and unleashes at the keys, it's virtuosic. As I write this, I have no idea whether Costa learned to play the piano or learned for the role, or hell even learned how to fake it extremely well; but it's yet another surprise that crackles with electricity.
Writers Olivia Neergaard-Holm, Schipper and Eike Frederik Schulz must balance the perilous job of pure and bumbling natural dialogue and extremely purposeful, momentum critical beats to keep Victoria moving. Not to mention that the Berlin setting and the main character's Spanish heritage means that throughout we're hearing the language and eb and flow between Spanish, English and German. It's never meant to feel rushed or with an obviousness that cries out, "O.K the audience is getting bored now," but it seems to have that innate sense. After watching Victoria you just want to sit these filmmakers down and interrogate them about how perfectly these motivations converge.
There's a final moment near the end of the film where Costa's Victoria is overwhelmed by emotion and begins to uncontrollably and unglamorously sob. It's such a powerfully affective scene because it's loaded with the tsunami of emotion that the character is feeling while also making the appropriate space for the audience to let their guard down too. Your heart pours out for Costa, and if you don't keep yourself in check, you may find yourself fighting a potential ugly cry.
Victoria pulses with life, it excites with unexpected romance, it thrills when our characters are dragged into a maelstrom; it is artistry, executed to perfection.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Sebastian Schipper Written by: Olivia Neergaard-Holm, Sebastian Schipper, Eike Frederik Schulz Starring: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit, Max Mauff
Laia Costa ... Victoria Frederick Lau ... Sonne Franz Rogowski ... Boxer Burak Yigit ... Blinker Max Mauff ... Fuß
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.