In 2007 I hopped on a flight to Berlin with zero intentions and a huge, open heart. I knew very little German and practiced with my partner in crime for most of the flight – between drink orders and bathroom breaks, of course. We were on our way to a new life. Life in Berlin.
“Victoria” isn’t Sebastian Schipper’s first rodeo but the German director uses this film to do something entirely innovative: the 138 minute film is one long take. I was skeptical at first, but the choreography in this film is at once incredible and almost unnoticeable. It’s really well rehearsed and it’s not a drama, either. It’s a one take thriller, if you can imagine it.
The film is about Victoria, a twenty-something from Madrid living in Berlin and working at a cafe. She meets a group of four “real Berliners” at a club and gets entangled – in an oh-so-organic way – in a bank heist. Yes. A bank heist. It sounds almost implausible but the film gets her into this mess in a very elemental way.
Schipper chose the perfect city to stage this story. Berlin is full of wanderers; possibility. It’s full of adventure and history in an epic way. Riding on bikes in tandem, drinking giant bottles of beer in the street, watching police circle neighbourhoods, sneaking onto rooftops, meeting strangers and making friends regardless of your origin. Schipper didn’t make this stuff up. The casual plausibility of it all is alarming and painted a nostalgic feeling of the city for me.
In 2008 my friend Ross fell off a Berlin rooftop and died. When Victoria stands at the edge of an apartment building stories in the sky and her four new friends take it incredibly seriously, I thought there must be a history here. Berlin, for me housed this history; of carelessness, of possibility, of the trop of the common twenty-something traveller – lost but not entirely. Do consequences even matter when you’re that far from home?
“Victoria” is a true thriller and a masterpiece in its ability to showcase a single shot over 138 minutes of film. While it’s slow to start, the film has the feel of building a puzzle. It gets easier the less pieces you have to fit into he larger picture. The film wouldn’t stand without the silences, the quiet moments in the cafe, the pouring of hearts and, most importantly, the failures and the choices we’re willing to make because of them.
Even slow to start, there are surprises, and there are twists. There are outbursts and harrowing and heartwarming moments and the end is ever so, so satisfying. It can’t go without mentioning, though, that I met a lot of women in Berlin who were rough around the edges; strong, indestructible, careless, lost but not entirely, and/or funny in their own right. Why couldn’t one or two of the “real Berliners” be a woman? Victoria would have still remained the outsider and at the reigns of all her choices, and the real Berliners would have stood as an even more accurate example of who might be roaming the city streets in the middle of the night.