An entry in the one-take cinema stakes, this 138-minute anecdote puts its main character centre-screen throughout. In plot terms, it’s the sort of shaggy dog crime story which could have been done in under an hour as a B movie, but the approach encourages audiences to get into the mind of a woman who makes some very strange choices. Victoria (Laia Costa), a Spanish woman who speaks more English than German, is found dancing alone in a Berlin club at 4AM … leaving to get a few hours’ sleep before she opens up the café where she works, she falls in with a group of four rough-ish young guys who’ve been turned away from the club by bouncers.
Sort-of charming Sonne (Frederick Lau) is most taken with her,but he comes in a package with bald ex-con Boxer (Franz Rogowski), jittery Blinker (Buray Yigit) and nearly-out-of-it birthday boy Fluss (Max Mauff). The guys are vaguely trying to steal a car and invite her up onto a roof – where she spooks Sonne by teetering near the edge – for aimless fun. Anyone who’s seen Last House on the Left or Irreversible might assume that the girl was heading for a horrific sexual assault, but it turns out that she’s the strangest character in the set – a former piano prodigy at a loose end after leaving a hothouse conservatory, she still hasn’t adjusted to not practicing seven hours a day and is having a hard time connecting with real people. So, after a sweet scene in the café where Victoria plays the ‘Mephisto Waltz’ to Sonne, partially revealing her driven and devillish streak, she semi-willingly takes Fuss’s place as driver in a meeting Boxer has with a gangland boss he owes a favour to – then, despite opportunities to back out, finds herself roped in a getaway driver (in a car which stalls at the wrong moment) for a bank robbery.
Though the gang – with all the guys proving themselves feckless, inept or less capable than her – pull off the heist, they botch the follow-up by insisting on going back to the club to dance more and then blundering into a police dragnet. Victoria, however, becomes more focused in extremis – a thwarted virtuoso who finds another outlet for her obsessive, almost diabolical ingenuity. Despite its length and the way its characters ramble and take unhelpful detours, it’s a film of suspense rather than longeurs and the early sections as Victoria falls in with the feckless, ineptly dangerous guys even have a desperate sweetness. Characters keep insisting they’re not bad guys even as they do bad things, and Costa is extraordinary as the reticent, impulsive, finally scary final girl of this long night. A feat of scheduling as much as filmmaking, with great use of the gathering dawn and anonymous city locations within driving and walking distance. Directed by Sebastian Schipper, who devised the story with Olivia Neergaard-Holm and Eike Frederik Schulz.