And here I was all excited to finally catch up with the film my fellow critics have been raving about for months. Victoria! One single long take: no cuts or edits for two hours and nine minutes as a young woman runs around Berlin. Turns out it’s not even very intriguing as a stunt, the technological challenges of it aside; there’s a good reason for cuts and edits, as a few tediously long walking and driving sequences remind us. Mostly director Sebastian Schipper’s gimmick disappears into the background as the implausibility and the flatness of the central character — as the utter absence of any distinguishing features at all in the supporting characters — becomes the unfortunate focus.
Victoria (Laia Costa, in her feature debut) is leaving a dance club alone in the wee hours of the morning when she decides, for the hell of it, to fall in with a bunch of guys — led by Sonne (Frederick Lau) — who have just been turned away from the door for being belligerent and obnoxious and possibly drunk. Now, I know that, yeah, #notallmen are dangerous and violent, but a woman never knows which men will be the exception, and even a woman who is looking for adventure or excitement is going to be at least a teensy bit leery, at least at first. But we have no idea at all what Victoria is seeking in their company, if her interest is piqued by their badness — they are clearly trying to steal a car when they invite her to hang out with them — or if she’s just an oblivious, naive idiot who cannot hear the alarm bells ringing ever louder all around her that these guys are major trouble. When, after almost an hour of nothing of any significance occurring, some stuff happens that even she can longer deny is, ahem, problematic, she still fails to react. Is she afraid? Is she turned on? We have no idea.
Actually, it’s tough to escape the conclusion that we are intended to take her as hopelessly, ridiculously naive (not that this fixes any of the film’s problems). Victoria is from Spain, and has been in Germany only a few months, and she doesn’t speak German, at all. She has a job working in a cafe that she is left to open by herself in the morning, though why her boss would let her try to cope with harried, caffeine-jonesing people hurrying to work when she doesn’t even speak their language is a mystery. This does provide a convenient detour for the storyline, however, a place still quiet and relatively private in the predawn hours to which she has keys. But this is the real reason, I suspect, for this strange scenario: Victoria and the guys converse with one another in English — the movie is mostly in English — but the men can still conspire in German and keep her ignorant of what they’re talking about. Still, you don’t need to speak their language to see that they are up to some nasty stuff. Except her. She has no reaction whatsoever. It’s mysterious, and worse, it’s annoying. Can she really be this dumb?
In retrospect, it appears that perhaps Victoria’s earlier sob story to Sonne, part of their unconvincing flirtation, about being a thwarted musician might be intended as some sort of justification for why she eventually agrees to participate in their ever-ramping-up criminal behavior. Her creativity has been stifled, and so she’s okay with getting caught up in some very bad doings? That’s hardly persuasive, but even if it were, it does not explain her inexplicable stoicism in the face of it. She’s not a person, more like a mannequin being dragged around by a plot that doesn’t even actually need her. If Victoria is meant to be a character study of a young woman in trouble, it has almost entirely neglected her.