Sunday, June 5, 2016

"Victoria (2015)": Suffocated By Its Own Gimmick

Now Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Netflix

By their very nature, gimmicks are designed to draw you in with no indication that what you will be receiving is of any veritable quality.  We all fall for them, even those of us who deal with them on a regular basis or even recognize them as gimmicks from the outset.  Victoria drew my attention with its gimmick of having been shot in one continuous take, and though this feat is certainly impressive, it does nothing to speak to the film’s quality and actually acts to its detriment.

Victoria is a Spanish woman, recently transplanted to Berlin and experiencing the night life one evening at a local club.  She meets four young German men who want her to hang out with them in the early morning hours.  Despite having obligations at her job the next morning, Victoria lets loose with her new friends, only to discover that they have other plans later in the evening as she is corralled into assisting them in a bank heist.

This sounds like an engaging premise, and there are certainly moments when the film shines.  Softer character moments make Victoria in particular an engrossing character, full of potential and promise as a musician, yet drawn into crime as a consequence of one too many bad decisions.  Plot critical action scenes also are a highlight of the film, particularly in how they are set up and executed over the course of one 130 minute shot, yet still remain coherent and grounded with the characters.  Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen is a force to be reckoned with, comparisons to Emmanuel Lubezki be damned.

And yet, when compared to Lubezki’s work on Birdman, a film that merely employed the illusion of a singular take through the use of clever editing, Victoria is entirely lackluster in that its singular take serves no purpose other than to be technically impressive.  The downside of a singular take in a film that traverses multiple locations is that we travel with our characters in real time, which comes together in what must have been a remarkable Rube Goldberg machine of timing and cinematographic precision, but there are extended scenes of characters walking from place to place, the actors trying their best to spice up these moments with character-revealing dialogue but to little avail.  Two-plus hours is a long time to spend a sizeable portion watching characters commute, and it completely undermines one of the direct advantages of cinematic storytelling: the compression of time.

Alfred Hitchcock once said that drama is life with all the dull bits cut out, and Victoria is the epitomization of that statement’s inverse.  By including all the dull bits, Victoria sucks the drama out of its story, and the moments when it remembers to be an entertaining film get lost in the mundane shuffle.  Let this be a lesson that gimmicks aren’t always worthwhile, even if they are technically impressive and deserving of recognition for simply having been achieved.

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