Monday, November 23, 2015

"Victoria": in Hitchcock-style continuous-take thriller from Germany, a female pianist sinks into a criminal mess after a (heterosexual) flirt in a (gay) bar

Victoria”, directed by Sebastian Schipper based on a story he wrote with Olivia Neergaard-Holm and Eile Frederik-Schultz, kept me glue to the screen in morbid fascination, identifying with a female protagonist from Spain (Laia Costa) whose life goes into a spiral over three hours after wee-morning hours flirt in a bar.

The film is noteworthy because it is shot as one continuous take (like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope”), this time for 130 minutes, Cinemascope.  The continuous shooting does not allow the camera to adjust to different background depths, to the Berlin streets in the background often look out of focus in the dawn light. A standard aspect ratio actually would have been more appropriate, with even more attention to close-ups – Hitchcock again, because this is definitely a “Hitchcock genre” film.  The shooting script is reported to have only skeleton dialogue, as actors improvised in some scenes (especially Victoria herself).
The film opens in a disco, with the dance floor fogged over, a common bar practice to provide some illusion of privacy and reduce the possible effects of voyeuristic photography by gawkers on the edges.  There is some dirty dancing among men, so this may be a gay or mixed bar.  (I wondered if it could be the Connection Disco, which I visited in 1999, having a horrific little museum downstairs.)

 I wondered if there were after hours, or what the closing times would be in Europe.  Nevertheless, straight people come in (even sometimes using homophobic language), and one of these is Victoria.

 Now, I have a little problem with the premise that she has moved and is running a shop without speaking German.  Much of the film turns out to be in English (which disqualified it from some awards at the Berlin festival).  Sometimes there are no subtitles, and you have the feeling that German and English are so much alike that they are almost interchangeable (that’s even more true of English and Dutch).  However, language would be more an issue for a romance-language speaker.

Victoria flirts with Sonne (Frederick Lau), who seems to have a few buddies, like Boxer, Blinker, and Fuss.  Sonne brags that he is going to buy and run the bar.  She follows them outside and isn’t put off when they fake at stealing a car.  She invites him back to her pad and tells her backstory, of having wanted to be a concert pianist, and plays a portion of the Liszt Mephisto Waltz.  And she is really good (the piano music seems superimposed, despite the continuous take).

And she is pleasant and off-the-wall, and non-judgmental.  She seems unphased as she realizes they have a plan and appointment for a pre-dawn bank robbery.  All this for love.   The criminals seem to rationalize their behavior as revolutionary and inevitable because of the gap between rich and poor, and even talk about how you can get “less time” if you get caught.  The welfare state doesn’t stop crime.

Needless to say, given the wat the world is now , she could have walked into much worse – like a terror plot (most of the actors in the recent attacks in France and found in raids in France and Belgium seem to be nationals and white).  No telling where this activity from common European street criminals could go – not only shootings but maybe WMD’s.  The movie is accidentally timely for this reason.  She isn’t exactly like Patty Hearst, as she wasn’t taken, but she quickly takes on Stockholm-syndrome behaviors.  The robbery goes very wrong and the cops come and the shootouts happen.  She and Sonne wind up doing a home invasion in a nearby apartment and kidnapping a baby as cover, while Victoria pleads with the young mother that she isn’t a bad person, just someone who made one mistake. She suddenly seems very afraid of the unthinkable  prospect of prison.  It’s interesting that Sonne keeps going, our not realizing he is mortally shot, until they’re in the Westin.  And at the very end, she may get away with the money (to raise a baby), but she could hardly walk the streets long and not get caught.  Could she get the money back across to Spain and not attract attention.  Probably not any more.

There was one bald character who seemed to change appearance – chest hair and a buzz cut in later scenes, but none earlier in the bar – not possible with a continuous take.  Or were there two similar skinhead characters?

I guess the moral of the story is, straight women need to be careful about the men they pick up in gay bars.

The official site is here from Adopt Film, which specializes in European foreign language thrillers.  Production companies included MonkeyBoy and RadicalFilm.

I saw this before a light crowd at Landmark’s Bethesda Row late Sunday night (second week).  The theater is easier to get to now as all the construction nearby on Woodmont is completed and all streets are open.

The film has no connection to the 1982 MGM comedy “Victor Victoria” from Blake Edwards with Julie Andrews and James Garner, and a rat that spoils a meal at a Paris restaurant.

Picture: Artwork from South Africa near Bethesda parking garage.

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