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Film review: Victoria – brilliant one-take German heist thriller set in late-night Berlin

Great camerawork and sterling performances from a skeleton script mark this action-packed look at fate, split-second decisions and their implications

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 August, 2016, 5:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 August, 2016, 5:31pm

4/5 stars

While you might not know it if you watch Sebastian Schipper’s film unawares, Victoria is filmed entirely in one take. No cuts, no tricks ... just a 134-minute thriller that deftly, almost impossibly, weaves itself around 22 locations in Berlin.

As much as this sounds like dazzling showmanship by Schipper and his cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovlen – and it certainly is – this tale of one Spanish tourist’s night-time odyssey builds towards a devastating emotional crescendo that has little to do with dexterous camerawork.

Laia Costa stars as the titular waitress from Madrid, on a three month working trip to the German city. On a night out clubbing, she meets local lad Sonne (Frederick Lau) who convinces her to accompany him and his friends for an after-hours drink.

After some shy flirting, one thing leads to another – but not towards the climax you might expect. With Sonne’s friend Boxer (Franz Rogowski) indebted to an ex-con, these wannabe heavies are strong-armed into committing a bank robbery. With Victoria roped in as the getaway driver, the heist is pulled off with relative ease; but after the celebrations comes chaos.

If it sounds far-fetched – not least why Victoria didn’t just walk away from these coke-fuelled thugs before she got in too deep – it is. But, as it muses on the nature of fate and those irrational split-second moments that can change your life forever, it’s almost impossible, rather like Victoria, to not get swept up by the intensity of the situation.

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Credit is due to all the actors for their deft work, but particularly the leads, improvising from a skeleton script. One can only imagine the quicksilver reactions needed to maintain performances, including an impressive piano recital by Costa at one point, across two-and-a-quarter hours.

But what’s really remarkable is how, in the final scenes, you’ll forget this is a one-take wonder as the characters and story takes hold. Brilliantly engineered, coolly executed, Victoria is a triumph.

Victoria opens on August 18

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