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Breathless through the night

Sebastian Schipper’s “Victoria” is a stunner, a breathless Berlin tour-de-force.

As a German journalist at the Berlinale one feels strangely responsible for the German submissions in the line-up. It is probably the same as feelings for one’s own children: You want them to do well, to not cause you any embarrassment, and for other people to find them adorable. In this 2015 competition, Germany is being represented by films from Andreas Dresen (“Summer in Berlin”, “Cloud 9”) and Sebastian Schipper (“Gigantics”, “A friend of mine”). After the premier of Schipper’s film on Saturday let it clearly be said: There’s no cause for shame.

All or nothing

“Victoria” is a breathless tour-de-force, shot in real time with a unique, wide camera angle—2 hours, 20 minutes. The film starts in the early morning hours in a Berlin nightclub. In front of the club the young Spanish woman Victoria (Laia Costa) meets four kids from Berlin: Sonne (Frederick Lau), Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit) and Fuss (Mas Mauff). There’s something kinetic between Victoria and Sonne. The boys owe somebody money, and to pay it off they have to do something shady. When Fuss unexpectedly bails, Victoria steps in as driver. In the end it’s all or nothing, and their crazy adventure becomes a matter of life and death.

From the other submissions at the Berlinale, “Victoria” stands alone by virtue of its sheer tempo and authenticity. Similarly immediate until now was only the film “Taxi” from the Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who in his film plays a Taxi driver on the move through Tehran, and on the way collects an assortment of different people. The young people in “Victoria” talk exactly like young people in Berlin talk: sometimes in bad English, sometimes in German. They flirt, laugh, and try to sense what makes the others tick. Nothing seems artificial, everything is immediate. And the actors themselves are show-stoppers: in a way Laia Costa and Frederick Lay personify a modern Bonnie and Clyde, and in every minute one has the feeling that their meeting could have happened in real life. The boys are actually endearing guys, who but with the exception of Boxer—who sits out most the film behind bars—go off the rails.

Merciless until the end

Ultimately, Sebastian Schipper bets everything on “Victoria”—and wins. There are different scenes in the film that could have been the end. Scenes, that would have made a happy end, or at least the viewer could go home with a good feeling. But no. Schipper pulls his piece through, mercilessly, until the film does end in bright daylight.

No, there is no need to feel embarrassed about this German film. One can feel proud that a young German director can dare such an undertaking, making perhaps one of the most extraordinary, uncompromising German films ever since Fatih Akin’s “Head On.”

Translated from German

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