Empire (UK) - - CINEMAS -


15 138 MINS.

DI­REC­TOR Se­bas­tian Schip­per CAST Laia Costa, Fred­er­ick Lau, Franz ro­gowski

Vic­to­ria (Costa) is a young Span­ish woman newly ar­rived in Ber­lin. Bump­ing into a group of lo­cal youths, she ac­cepts their in­vite to hang out — with sur­pris­ing, even dan­ger­ous, con­se­quences. O- ONE LIKES a spoiler, but when it comes to co-writer/ di­rec­tor Se­bas­tian Schip­per’s ex­tra­or­di­nary film, one re­veal it pays to know about in ad­vance is that it was shot in one take. All two hours, 18 min­utes of it. For, so fault­lessly is it ex­e­cuted, if you didn’t know, you might not even re­alise. And it’s some­thing worth ap­pre­ci­at­ing, be­cause it’s not as though Schip­per lim­its the scope of the ac­tion. Shift­ing from club dance floor to street to late-night shop to apart­ment block to — well, you get the point — the plot moves cast and crew across seven lo­ca­tions; even, at one point, tak­ing them up a lad­der, with nary a jud­der. And they only had to restart film­ing twice.

We first meet Vic­to­ria (Laia Costa) danc­ing alone ( but quite hap­pily) in a Ber­lin club, the beats pound­ing and lights strob­ing to dizzy­ing ef­fect. Leav­ing, she bumps into four lo­cal lads loi­ter­ing out­side who in­vite her to be shown round the “real” Ber­lin. She ac­cepts, and so be­gins an of­fk­il­ter ad­ven­ture that brings to mind Be­fore Sun­rise — if Ethan Hawke’s Jesse had been of con­sid­er­ably more du­bi­ous char­ac­ter.

The orig­i­nal script for Vic­to­ria was just 12 pages long; most two-hour screen­plays come in at around 120. Pro­vid­ing the cast with a story arc and char­ac­ter out­lines, im­pro­vi­sa­tion from the tal­ented young ac­tors fleshed out the rest. The re­sult is a raft of nat­u­ral­is­tic, ut­terly con­vinc­ing per­for­mances from all, but par­tic­u­larly Costa as the smart, fun, un­pre­dictable Vic­to­ria and Fred­er­ick Lau as Sonne, un­of­fi­cial gang leader but with a soft, sen­si­tive soul hid­den be­neath the cocky blus­ter. In­stantly drawn to each other — even as all the boys josh for her at­ten­tion — there’s a sense that, once this crazy night is over, they could have some­thing spe­cial. Be­hind the cam­era, the work of cin­e­matog­ra­pher Sturla Brandth is as­ton­ish­ing — de­spite the tech­ni­cal de­mands of shoot­ing just one take, of­ten on the move, in and out of cars, up and down stairs, he never sac­ri­fices care­ful fram­ing and com­po­si­tion. In ac­knowl­edge­ment of that, his name ap­pears be­fore di­rec­tor Schip­per’s in the cred­its.

Of course, in­no­va­tion is for noth­ing if the con­tent isn’t there. Hap­pily, not only is Vic­to­ria a thor­oughly en­gag­ing char­ac­ter piece, once Ber­lin starts to re­veal its darker nooks and cran­nies, it trans­forms into a crack­ing thriller that con­founds at ev­ery turn. LIZ BEARDSWORTH

She’d hit a Ber­lin wall.

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