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Dudley’s World: ‘Victoria’ and the Surprising Comforts of a One-Take Thriller

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Dudley’s World is a Vague Visages column by Jordan Brooks.

As the throbbing music fades in Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria, a night spent inside an underground European nightclub comes to an end while weaving seamlessly into the beginning of something wholly unexpected. Built entirely on impulse, the morning of our protagonist proceeds like a lucid dream influenced by a made-for-tv drama emanating from a television somewhere in the background. Victoria (Laia Costa) lives her life in the moment, and she unflinchingly braves a Berlin clouded in darkness and crawling with drunken locals. Her unabashed curiosity for life (and for living) is echoed by Schipper’s “one take” direction, and as the two intertwine in their narrative dance, a complex set of emotions begins to appear.

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Victoria unfolds in such a way that tension must be built and released without ever leaving a given scene; Schipper cannot rely on cutting or escape to calm his audience, and in so doing, the director inexorably bonds them to the mindset of the characters. An ever-watchful eye, we feel a sense of attachment to the seemingly helpless Victoria and begin to feel connected with her wellbeing. Shining with innocence, her solo-romp in the nightclub endears us to this isolated foreigner, unsure of her place in the world, but craving some sort of revelation in self-discovery. Observing as she links up with a group of “Real Berliners” (East Berliners), we cannot help but feel nervous at the thought of a young woman cavorting with a foursome of drunken men hiding dubious morals. Schipper prays on societal fears of rape and sexual assault in order to lend gravity to each moment Victoria spends with these loudmouthed Germans; the language barrier only heightening the possibility of deceit. (Victoria, a native Spaniard, must communicate via broken English.)

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As the film wears on, the absence of cutting assuages possible fears of outlandish side-plotting and abnormal behavior. Knowing that Schipper will never cut, fade to black or jump in time, there simply isn’t room for deviation. If Sonne (Frederick Lau) and his “brothers” attack Victoria, the story would not be able to continue. As harrowing or emotionally shattering as this line of thought might have been, an hour spent traumatized inside of a hospital is a quick way to kill any narrative interest. Although it is rarely flashy, being aware of the unbroken shot invariably sticks in the back of a viewer’s mind, and its mere existence is enough to comfort us during moments of stress.

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With Victoria’s relative safety almost guaranteed (Schipper might be as visually daring as Hitchcock, but this is not the type film that kills off a leading lady less than halfway in), the audience is free to coexist alongside her and the band of German revelers. Interesting situations crop up not because they make sense, but because they have to in order for the film to survive — a Rube Goldberg device with only one function is as pointless as it is boring. The cumulative effect of Schipper’s film is that of the ultimate one-night-stand. With empathy as its only guide, Victoria goes out for a debaucherous night at the club and winds up finding far more than it intended. A two-hour and eighteen minute emotional arc, the audience witnesses the lifespan of a complex and varied romance condensed into a fiery and passionate pre-dawn affair. Unable to corrupt time or location, Victoria manages to pulse with lasting energy, displaying just how incredible, devastating, thrilling and painful even two hours of life, spent really living, can be.

Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of London, England. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.

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