At first glance, the Blu-ray edition of the German heist thriller “Victoria,” now out from Kino Lorber, seems distressingly bare-bones. No audio commentary. No behind-the-scenes featurette. There isn’t even a “Scene Selection” option.
Wait. I get it. That’s because there’s only one scene. One 138-minute scene.
The hook of Sebastian Schipper’s film is that it was shot entirely in one single, continuous take, with no CGI fudging or other trickery of any kind, swooping from the streets of Berlin into throbbing nightclubs and cramped apartments and back out again. Just seeing how Schipper and his actors pull it all off makes “Victoria” worth watching on its own, but even if it had been edited into a conventional thriller, “Victoria” would be a satisfying film with a memorable heroine.
She is Victoria (Laia Costa), a freewheeling young Spanish woman who we first see dancing to the beat in a club at about 5 a.m. or so. Tumbling outside, she crosses paths with a group of boisterous, drunk German, who flirt with her and walk with her. She gets drawn into their orbit, and we feel a sense of dread at her easy trust. But as they hang out together in the pre-dawn light, laughing and drinking, they don’t seem like such bad sorts. One of them, Sonne (Frederick Lau) is even sort of cute.
“Victoria” takes its time getting cranked up, and there’s a lot of hangout time spent with with this crew before it gets down to business in the second hour. (I can just imagine a skilled editor watching this first hour and fidgeting in their seat.) But we learn evnetually that Sonne’s jittery friend Boxer (Franz Rogowski) is an ex-con who owes a local crime lord a favor for his protection while in prison. The favor turns out to be robbing a bank just as its doors open after sunrise. Victoria offers to be the getaway driver.
The robbery, incredibly but sort of daringly, happens off-screen, as the camera stays with Victoria in the car. The Germans make off with 50,000 euros, and head back to the club in a state of stupid blabbermouth euphoria. If nothing else, “Victoria” goes a long way towards explaining how criminals smart enough to commit a crime are dumb enough to screw up after they’re seemingly in the clear. The final half-hour is a crazed, relentless chase, with bullets flying and people screaming.
I expected “Victoria” to be more of a pell-mell action flick throughout in the vein of “Run Lola Run,” but it’s more of a slow burn until that last act. One of the pleasures of its continuous take is watching the power shift among the robbers — while Victoria seems initially like a lamb among the wolves, she turns out to have a cooler head under pressure than the so-called criminals. The elfish Costa is a magnetic and sympathetic presence throughout — an interlude in which she shows off her skills as a concert pianist, a dream thwarted while Victoria was still a child — deepens her character.
There are certainly points in “Victoria” where one is grateful that the art of editing was invented, especially when we’re just watching the crew move from one location to the next. But the film’s crazy ambition feels like a manifestation of its heroine’s heedless, joyful, headlong leap into danger. Both Victoria and her movie do the seemingly impossible, just for the heck of it, and get away with it.