Review: Victoria‘s Long Take (and Title) Triumphs on Multiple Levels

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Garnering the most attention and accolades for this extraordinary German film (including the 2015 Deutscher Filmpreis for Best Feature Film) has been the technical and artistic feat of pulling off a compelling, multi-character/location narrative in a single, 138-minute-long  sequence shot, in which the shot’s real-equals-reel-time aspect is more than the stylistic tour de force Alfred Hitchcock (limited by ten-minute film reels) came close to achieving in 1947’s Rope and Alexander Sokulov (thanks to a digital camera) finally accomplished in 2002’s Russian Ark, but adds immeasurably to the film’s cumulative emotional impact, enabling the attentive viewer, prodded by the steadicam’s nonstop stalking of the titular heroine, to experience, far more intensely than in the standard 1000-2000-cut film, the young Spanish immigrant’s late-night Mephisto Waltz (strains of which she herself plays in the film*) through deserted Berlin streets, while also encouraging the viewer, through the film’s spacio-temporal cohesion, to more readily recall the narrative starting point of Victoria’s harrowing adventure and more intimately connect the dots of her topsy-turvy character arc, while also, as an extra attraction, conjuring other stylistically and thematically related films, not in the slapdash manner of postmodern pastiche, in which references to myriad media productions are slapped across the film like bumper stickers, but rather by allowing cinematic allusions to wash up from the memory bank in waves—New Waves, to be precise, as the films which Victoria most immediately evokes (besides the preordained Rope and Russian Ark) are Jean-Luc Godard’s nouvelle vague-pioneering A bout de souffle (Breathless, 1960) and Tom Tykwer’s neo-New Wavish Lola rennt (Run Lola Run, 1998), the kinship extending both to form and content, to form in A bout de souffle’s counterposing of radical jump-cutting and handheld long takes and Lola rennt‘s Rashomonesque rendering of three versions of the same event in quasi-real time on contemporary Berlin streets, to content in all three films’ amour fou (crazy love) of a young adventuress (who in A bout de souffle, as in Victoria, is an immigrant) with a charming roustabout (who in Lola rennt, as in Victoria, is in debt to the mob), with all three relationships literally running aground, and with subsidiary associations to Dogma-inspired films, most notably Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s Rosetta (1999), whose similarly steadicam-stalked titular heroine, while not an immigrant, clearly feels herself a stranger in her own land, and whose name, like Victoria, carries overdetermined allegorical associations, Rosetta through its obvious evocation of “Rosetta Stone,” itself a metaphor for the allegorical process, Victoria through not only the eponymous protagonist’s ironically regal appellation but her ragtag retinue’s even more blatantly symbolic monikers—Sonne (sun), Fuss (foot), Boxer, and Blinker (strobe light, turn signal, flasher: all resonating with the film’s action)—culminating in Victoria’s striding off victoriously, as much as her life-shattering experience and bag of stolen money will allow, into the dawn’s early light.

*actually played, in the film’s only technical “cheat,” by a professional pianist

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Vincent Brook teaches at UCLA, Cal-State LA, and Loyola Marymount. His latest book is Silver Lake Chronicles: Exploring an Urban Oasis in Los Angeles, with a second Silver Lake book and an anthology on Jews and Hollywood forthcoming.

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