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Victoria 2015: View of Contemporary Berlin


What does German contemporary cinema have to contribute to the history of film? Impro! Improvisation is a favourite tool of many German directors, from acclaimed filmmakers like Andreas Dresen, to young talents like Tom Lass, whose last film “Kaptn Oskar” was shot without a script. With his latest film “Victoria”, Sebastian Schipper followed the same path. The film is based on a 12-page treatment, everything else happened on the go.

Victoria is a Spanish girl in her 20s. She has been in Berlin for only three months and she doesn’t speak German. We first meet her in a club, where she dances fiercely and tries to talk to the bartender. When leaving the club, Victoria meets three German boys and decides to go with them to drink, to see the city and to party some more.

Schipper paints an accurate picture of the contemporary Berlin. It’s easy to identify with Victoria as an expat: we have all been there at the very beginning. Not understanding or speaking German (yet), not knowing anyone in the city, working badly paid jobs in cafes. Victoria’s meeting with the boys is like a clash between the West and the East. Even though they speak English to her, they keep speaking German to each other, leading to some gags. The film isn’t however a typical “Berlin drama”. Later on, the story drifts towards action cinema, giving it an interesting touch and a particular pacing. Between the fast, intense scenes come quieter, intimate moments where we learn more about the characters. It’s like the director lets the characters and the audience breath a little bit, before making us run through Berlin again.

“Victoria” was the film on everybody’s lips after this year’s Berlinale, when Sturla Brandth Grøvlen won a Silver Bear for cinematography. The film was shot to look like one take. Sure, we’ve seen this before just a couple of months ago with “Birdman”, but Grøvlen has a very different style than what Hollywood has accustomed us to. His one-take is not a clean, perfectly lit and meticulously planned dolly ride. The frames are not always ideal, the movements are sudden, sometimes a bit shaky, but there is still space for some beautiful cinematic moments. The opening of the film, where for a good thirty seconds only blinking lights in the club are to be seen, is just spectacular. It’s like we’re thrown into this situation, and we find ourselves there on the dance floor with Victoria. The camera stays very close to the characters, which is a bonus because the acting is terrific. Sebastian Schipper said he didn’t want to write dialogue because he knew it would sound artificial and forced, like “an old-guy’s vision of how young people sound”. Instead, he just let the actors speak, like they speak in their every-day lives. It worked.

Some critics have already compared “Victoria” to the Tom Tykwer’s cult film “Run Lola Run”. With nominations in seven categories, it also dominated this year’s German Film Awards (Deutscher Filmpreis). Needless to say, Sebastian Schipper’s film is a big sensation for German cinema this year.

“Victoria” premiered in cinemas in Berlin on 11th June and is screening now in cinemas across Berlin. Screenings with English subtitles are also available.

By Zuzanna Grajzer

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