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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Victoria movie review: no cutting to the chase here

Victoria red light

The two-hour-plus single-take gimmick disappears into the background as the implausibility and the flatness of the protagonist come to the unfortunate fore.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): desperate for stories about women

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

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, buttweet 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?tweet

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.


red light 1 star

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Victoria (2015)
US/Can release: Oct 09 2015
UK/Ire release: Apr 01 2016 (VOD same day)

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, drug use)

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card (now updated for 2017’s trolls!) you might want to reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    Birdman got Best Picture, therefore… but whatever one thinks of Birdman it did at least have something more than this gimmick.

  • Paul W.

    I saw it and reviewed it. I also had a wary feeling of why would she hang with these guys but the clue in to me was the possibly the first few lines she speaks. She’s dancing by herself at a club, she meanders over to the bar and tries to start a conversation with the bartender, is rebuffed, and she continues, asking her to have a drink with him. The main motivation for her, as far as I could tell, was loneliness. She came off as desperately lonely, and add to that her youthfulness and naivete and I got her. I thought it was a lovely film.

  • Loneliness doesn’t generally trump wariness in most women, in my experience.

  • Nailed It

    I just watched this and while I liked the idea of the single take and did think there was some thrill to it, and thought the end was pretty heart-tugging I totally agree that the movie did nothing to elucidate the motivations of Victoria and whether she was just a reckless thrillseeker or hopelessly naive. It really made it hard to enjoy it and get into it. Thanks for this review. I just cant understand why people were so head over heels for it.

  • socrates35

    Not just loneliness…despair and soul-wrenching angst at how all those wasted years (in her mind, at least) at the conservatory has left her friendless and alone at this stage in her life, feeling compelled to move to a foreign place where she doesn’t even speak the language. Understanding that, and the sense of release and bonding she must have felt at being able to unburden herself of those unbearably self-destructive feelings to a sympathetic stranger can go a long way to explaining why she would consider doing crazy things for the sake of ‘amour fou’. The surface action of the film IS implausible, true. But the viewer has to peer beneath the technically impressive camerawork and simplistic banal storyline (girl meets boy, boy turns out to be small-time crook, girl helps boy commit crime) to find the emotional reality.

  • Oh, never fear: I peered.

  • socrates35

    Fear never crossed my mind, I can reassure you ;-)

  • Kurtmann

    MaryAnn Johanson, what’s your problem? Why you have to spread your hate all around?
    It’s
    still a movie. A pretty good one too even it has its longueurs and its
    characters are behaving dumb at various stages of their road to demise.
    You
    are picking every single bit out of it to criticize and support your
    hatespeech. (Yeah she’s opening up the cafe at her own, even without any
    knowledge of the language. Wow what a major mistake. It ruins the whole
    plot. Maybe the Boss is just sick this particular morning or
    whatever??? )
    You Madame Johanson are a perfect example of people, who talk down a piece of art, just out of their own small scope of mind.
    Or maybe you are just bitter because you’ve been always too reasonable and smart in your youth to ever experience something.

  • Bluejay

    G5 on both cards!

  • amanohyo

    A sprinkle of oO5 in the beginning too – I don’t know if it’s too late, but someone should consider adding a Bingo square along the lines of, “Although you clearly explained your reasoning, you actually hated this because you’re a bitter old woman who’s never recklessly grabbed life by the balls like me, a person who petulantly pens angry comments below disagreeable movie reviews. P.S. I am 100% not projecting my own frustrations and regrets at all.”

    At least you didn’t mention cats, getting laid, and/or Sex and the City/Twilight/Fifty Shades. A couple years back, I was starting to think that ancient straw feminist deserved a square too. Also, weird use of “hatespeech.” I dislike the term, but what protected group does the review incite violence or prejudice against? Or are you just claiming that any expression of strong dislike can be called hatespeech?

  • Danielm80

    The next time I update the card (presumably in 2019), it may include “You’re just a bitter old woman who hates everything.” It will also probably include “You clearly didn’t really watch the movie, or you’d agree with me!” and “This review is just clickbait.”

    The thing is, a lot of the recurring comments aren’t even actual arguments. I thought about including a square that just said, “SJW, snowflake, white knight, cuck,” and a few other terms. But the Bingo card could really be one big square that says, “No right-thinking person could disagree with me, so I’ll have to come up with some kind of rationalization to explain your opinion.”

    If there are really 25 more Bingo-worthy arguments by 2019, I may be too depressed to find it funny anymore.”

  • I’m not sure you understand what film criticism is, but that’s for your thoughtful rebuttal to my review. You are a gentleman, sir.

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