Tag Archives: foreign movies

Victoria: A One Shot Film

Victoria_film

Victoria ponders her fate. Image from andsoitbeginsfilms.com. Click through for source.

We open on a young woman, possibly alone, dancing in a nightclub with strobe lights ominously flashing around her. On the way out of the club she runs into four cheeky German men. The men talk and goof around with our female protagonist, and then ask her to come hang out with them, to which she concedes. This happens in about the first 10 minutes of the movie, but everything that happens afterward is a direct consequence of that one impulsive late night decision.

At this point in the film we learn that the titular character, Victoria, is from Spain and has been temporarily living in Berlin. Her German isn’t very good, but her English is passable. She shares some drinks with her new friends, and strikes up a flirtation with one of them. But what starts out as light-hearted hijinks at 4:30 am eventually swerves into darker and more dangerous territory, as Victoria is coerced into participating in her German companions’ dangerous plans.

victoria1-352x480While the plot may sound like your standard issue crime drama — with an innocent finding herself in the wrong place/time with the wrong people — Victoria turns out to be something a little different. This is largely due to the thrilling and unusual way it was filmed, with everything we see on screen being captured in a single shot. That’s right, no cuts. Films such as Birdman and Rope are lauded for being shot in long takes that are then cut together to feel like everything is happening in one take, but very few movies are actually shot using one long take (a couple that come to mind are Russian Ark and Timecode).

In interviews the director has talked about his process, and the challenges of filming a 2-hour-plus movie (it clocks in at 138 minutes) in over 20 different locations throughout the city of Berlin; because there are no cuts, and no edits, the director and actors must have constantly felt like they were walking on a tightrope, just hoping that some random person on the streets of Berlin didn’t mess up a scene. In the end, Victoria was filmed three times (after much rehearsing) and then the best take was chosen as the eventual film. The “one take” filming process could be viewed as a stunt, but in this case, I think it really works to serve the story. The tension built from the tightrope walk of the actors and filming crew adds to the ratcheting tension of the story line, as Victoria is drawn into more and more dangerous situations.

Still, even with the tense story line, my favorite thing about this movie has to be the performances — especially the astounding lead performance from relative newcomer Laia Costa. She won the Best Actress award at last year’s German Film Awards, and boy did she earn it. There is not a single scene in Victoria where she is not present, and the movie would simply not work without her performance.

If you’re a fan of foreign or independent cinema, you should absolutely see this movie. Or, even if you’re not and you just want to experience something a little different, I recommend giving Victoria a try.

What about you, dear readers? Have you watched anything good recently? What do you recommend?

Happy viewing,

Tara

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Director’s Cut: Pedro Almodovar

Penelope Cruz stars in Broken Embraces. Image from: www.rogerebert.com

Penelope Cruz stars in Broken Embraces. Image from: http://www.rogerebert.com

 

This is the first post in an ongoing series. I plan to blog once a month about a different director whose films are featured in our collection.

My first exposure to the Spanish director Pedro Almodovar happened when I was taking Spanish classes in high school. We were being forced to sit through another boring Spanish instructional video, when our kooky teacher confessed, “If you want to watch a good Spanish movie, check out a film called Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios. I can’t show it in class, because it’s kind of naughty, but you should rent it. Trust me. Just don’t tell your parents that I’m the one who told you to…”

Image from: theguardian.com

Image from: theguardian.com

As luck would have it, we had a pretty great video store in my small hometown, and they had a copy of this film on VHS–the title in English translates to Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). I’m not sure I totally understood the film at the time, but it definitely left an impression on me.

All About My Mother. Imaged from slantmagazine.com

All About My Mother. Imaged from slantmagazine.com

Enough of an impression, that in the years that followed I’ve checked out almost all of Almodovar’s films, and he has become one of my favorite directors. Most of his films feature colorful sets, fantastic details, and larger-than-life characters—and his 1999 film All About My Mother does not disappoint on this front. The plot is pure melodrama so I won’t go into everything that happens, but in a nutshell: a grieving single mother, a pregnant HIV-positive nun, and a witty transgender prostitute form an unlikely family. There is also a fantastic monologue delivered late in the film about the literal cost (in dollars) of being an “authentic” woman.

talktoher

Talk to Her. Image from: gmanreviews.com

And boy does Almodovar love women. Most of his films focus on the lives of funny, strong, put-upon women and their various friends, families, enemies and lovers. And even though Talk to Her (2002) tells the story of two women lying in comas at the hospital (both tended to by the men who love them) these female personalities dominate the movie in flashbacks. I will warn the viewer though, while a lot of this film is beautiful and whimsical, there are some difficult passages involving bull-fighting and an (implied) moral transgression that might be hard for some to watch. However, if you’re not one to shy away from challenging films then this one should spark debate.

Gael Garcia Bernal in Bad Education. Image from: nytimes.com

Gael Garcia Bernal in Bad Education. Image from: nytimes.com

With his next film Bad Education (2004), Almodovar made the lives of men the central focus of his narrative, and cast a young Gael Garcia Bernal as his femme fatale. The set up is simple: two childhood friends are re-united, but one of them may not be who he says he is. From there things spiral out into a meta-fictional murder mystery, with a darker tone than in his three previous films.

Volver. Image from: rogerebert.com

Volver. Image from: rogerebert.com

Volver (2006) is probably my favorite of his films to date. While Almodovar’s films tend to swing wildly between comedy/farce and melodrama/tragedy, Volver somehow hits the sweet spot right in the middle of all four genres, with an added dose of magical realism. It’s a total joy to watch, which is really saying something since the story touches on murder, adultery, incest, malignant tumors, ghosts, and Penelope Cruz’s derriere. But maybe that’s the magic of Pedro Almodovar’s films? He’s able to take dark themes and surround them with bright colors, warm characters, and screwball humor—and really, is there anything better than that?

If you’re interested in giving this director a try, we have a dozen different films for you to choose from (Broken Embraces is another personal favorite) and we also have a documentary and books on his work.

So how about you, dear reader? Are you a fan of Pedro Almodovar, or do you have a director you’re particularly fond of?

Happy viewing,

Tara

PS – About a year ago I revisited Women on the Verge… with a friend who was in that same Spanish class, and it’s still a super fun movie. I can also see why it would not have been an appropriate film for us to watch in class.

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