Victoria posterTo the more cynical viewer, the fact that Victoria was shot in one continuous take may seem like a gimmick, but the truth is, the film holds many precious, real moments that would have never existed had director Sebastian Schipper decided not to shoot his movie the way he did. This isn’t a “one-take” film like Birdman (‘Birdman’ lampoons Hollywood with humorous, hyper-real, hero-hating satire). There were no tricky edits to transition into complicated effects shots. This is a daring film that balances a genuinely intimate story with tricky set pieces looming ahead of the drama. It follows a group of young men in Berlin who flirt with a Spanish visitor, our titular heroine, dragging her into a harrowing bank robbery and its aftermath. And it’s all shot in one genuine continuous take. Yes, it can’t be emphasized enough because there is magic in it.

It’s funny that Schipper, who co-wrote the script with Olivia Neergaard-Holm and Eike Frederik Schulz, played a small role in Tom Tykwer’s breakout 1998 movie Run Lola Run (he played Mike) because this film feels antithetical to the vigorously constructed Tykwer movie. While Run Lola Run depends so much on edits that it defied rules of space and time, Victoria is enslaved to chronology due to the fact the film has not a single splice cut in the action. Yet both films share a kinetic energy that grips the viewer in similar ways.

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The obvious energy of Victoria comes from the film’s vibrant characters. We meet them under the strobe lights of a nightclub (epileptics should be warned). Victoria (Laia Costa) is on her way home from an uneventful night of drinking and dancing at a Berlin nightclub, when a sweet-talking Sonne (Frederick Lau) persuades her to join him and his “brothers” Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit) and Fuss (Max Mauff) to extend the night a bit longer.

The push and pull in Sonne and Victoria’s flirtation creates an invisible line of power that’s wonderful to watch. Lau brings genuine charm to his role and Costa, who looks like a young Björk, is enchanting as a woman who can hold her own with these playfully rough dudes who sometimes allow a glitter of menace to shine through their rakish demeanor. The film takes its time with the mundane getting-to-know-you phase without any tricks in time lapse for sentimentality. There are a few scenes where the dialogue drops and dreamy music takes over the soundtrack. If it was meant to cover up flubs in the dialogue, you will never notice by the way the characters continue to wordlessly gel.

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There’s a more subtle way Victoria exudes its verve. It has several wondrous moments that indelibly make these characters human, and credit is due to the film’s so-called gimmick. The single take works for this film because it captures both the mundane and the spontaneous with a sort of reverent naturalism, and you have to hand it to the actors for both keeping their composure and embracing these serendipitous moments. They barrel through small mistakes without flinching, including a dropped cigarette and a sticky door. But the real intense moments where this works best is when the action begins. After a lengthy chase sequence involving gunfire, when Victoria finally has a chance to catch her breath and tries to speak it sounds as real and as visceral as you might imagine it would feel for someone who has just had her life in peril several times over.

The camera work can feel dizzying, and there are a couple of instances where you might be left to wonder whether that red point of light in a window during the chase scene is a laser sight that is intentionally part of the drama but is really just a flub. Overall, though, Victoria features transcendent moments that overshadow any notion that this is a film driven by a mere gimmick. It’s not often that a movie can touch the human side of performance while being as grounded within the constraints of the medium, and Victoria is a thrilling, sometimes moving example of ownership of the cinematic experience.

Hans Morgenstern

Victoria runs 138 minutes, is in English and in German with English subtitles and is not rated (it has cursing and violence). It opens in our Miami area this Friday, Oct. 16, at the Coral Gables Art Cinema who hosted a preview screening for the purpose of this review. For other screening dates across the U.S., jump through this link. Adopt Films provided all images to illustrate this post.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Poster-art-for-Caesar-Must-Die_event_mainIf you want to see how life informs acting, you have to see Caesar Must Die. Paolo Taviani and Vittorio Taviani have been making movies together since 1962. Influenced by one of the pioneers of Italian new-realism, Roberto Rossellini, the brothers come from a place where they understand that an actor’s experiences play a more important part in their performance than formal training. It should come as no surprise when the actors of the Tavianis’ latest work, a troupe gathered from inmates in the high-security Rebibbia Prison, channel Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with a potent verve that no posh, sincere actor could have achieved.

Caesar Must Die, only serves to highlight the artifice of acting through these potent performances that the filmmakers subvert in various ways throughout the movie. The film opens with the last scene of the play. The actors quiver with wide-eyed sincerity, delivering the lines of Shakespeare in Italian, using the accents from the various regions of Italy from whence they came. 027_al centro Antonio Frasca e Maurilio Giaffreda_foto di Umberto Montiroli“This is a man,” seems to be the final line of this version of the play, according to the subtitles (as opposed to Shakespeare’s “This was a man”). It’s an appropriate finale, as the scene only marks the start of the film, which moves briskly along, in a little over an hour’s time. After the standing ovation by the civilian audience and the roar of cheers from the actors in response, it seems apparent these actors went through much more than a play, and the directors know the true drama lays in the making of this production.

The film next fades to a silent, empty theater and then interior of Rebibbia Prison, as the actors, in plain clothes walk with their heads bowed down in silence as jailers work to open their solitary cell doors before the convicts step inside. The film next fades to a tight exterior shot of the windows of the prison in black and white footage, an intertitle announces “Six months earlier…” 146_al centro G.Arcuri,MontiroliSo begins the casting of the actors, where the theater director Fabio Cavalli will walk the actors through their roles. From learning their lines and feeling out their characters, the actors often break their readings with comments and questions that illuminate their parts with a depth beyond the meaning of the dialogue.

This is not a documentary, though these actors are real prisoners for crimes like murder, drug dealing and mafia activities. This is a meta-narrative about the relevance of art as communication. There are times when it feels a bit heavy-handed, such as a drama between actors when one accuses the other of speaking behind his back, while they rehearse. It slips out creatively, however, during a rehearsal of lines that seems to become improvisation before turning into a real no-holds-barred argument, but by then the film has made its point, and the great moments are the extended scenes within the confines of the prison walls as the actors inhabit their roles for some key sequences of the play. CDM_126_Giovanni Arcuri_foto di Umberto MontiroliTheir confinement looms hard and heavy over the big, resonant words of Shakespeare. After a return to the final scene in color and on stage, which becomes even more powerful on a second viewing, the film ends with Cosimo Rega, who plays the scheming Cassius, alone in his cell, uttering the line, “Since I got to know art this cell is a prison.”

The Tavianis’ film went on to win the Golden Bear at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival. It’s a major achievement for such a small film, but it does offer a statement that reaches beyond film. The recognition arrives well-deserved in acknowledging a pair of strong directors whose visionary work offers not only a statement about art, but its saving grace, even if it does arrive a little late for those doomed to live out their last days in prison.

Hans Morgenstern

Watch trailer:

Caesar Must Die is in Italian with English subtitles, runs 76 minutes and is not rated (expect a scene with harsh language, however). It opened at the Miami Beach Cinematheque this past Friday, March 29, and plays there from Tuesday, April 2, through Thursday, April 4. The theater loaned me a DVD screener for the purposes of this review. The film may also be playing elsewhere nationwide, as dates are scheduled through the end of April. Visit the movie’s homepage via Adopt Films for all U.S. screening dates: here.

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)