PFF24: Victoria (Sebastian Schipper, GER)

Flaunting an undeniably dexterous single take conceit, Victoria follows the titular twentysomething on a fateful two-plus hour jaunt through the streets of her non-native Berlin. An initially innocuous run-in with an inebriated quartet of locals yields the debauchery you’d expect it to, that is until a phone call upends the festivities tenfold. What ensues is a dice roll of dire proportions when Victoria becomes an unknowing accessory to the scheme the lot of them are forced to execute.

The word “gimmick” can often come off as reductive based on context. As a solely technical accomplishment, Victoria‘s ability to breezily exploit its strongest attribute is impressive in and of itself. In fact, one needn’t see the film in order to buy into the buzz surrounding what’s ostensibly a rote heist thriller bolstered by tension in real time. Gimmicky or not, what transpires is still engaging albeit a victim of its own design in terms of a streamlined narrative best suited for the film’s inherent visceral integrity.

Beyond the obvious, Victoria doesn’t have much else going for it. The performances are fine but the narrative isn’t, opting to paint Victoria as a naive, weak-willed hyperbole of exactly the woman these guys needed to help them in a pinch. It’s not an entirely insulting caricature, yet grating enough given how genuinely stupid the lot of them are. In handling what could very easily become a matter of life and death at any moment, the choices they make belie the film’s more sophisticated trappings, even if they’re all drunk, high, reckless and in the throes of an adrenaline rush.

Victoria does a great job at masking its inadequacies with one-third of the tagline on its poster. The excellent execution of concept is unsurprisingly its crowning attribute, greatly overshadowing just how necessarily bare bones the proceedings are to ensure the utmost smoothness of presentation. It’s agreeably impressive and worth lauding as a fundamental cinematic achievement, but Victoria doesn’t stand tall as a pinnacle of contemporary excellence.

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PFF24: Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven, FRA/GER/TUR/QAT)

Mustang is Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut feature about a Turkish sisterly quintet coming of age in an oppressively conservative household. The girls long for contemporary normalcy on a day-to-day basis, constantly rebelling to little avail as the consequences of their behavior grow more and more severe. Only time will tell if the sisters’ resilience will triumph in the face of adversity as the allure of the outside world grows stronger every day.

Barring obvious parallels to The Virgin Suicides, Mustang‘s primary appeal is contingent upon one’s inherent fascination with cultures not our own. The core sisters – having lost their parents years prior – are at the mercy of their wildly conservative relatives that have a hard time with leniency despite the changing of times. Predetermination and purity are the behavioral cornerstones to abide by and, rest assured, stepping the least bit out of line yields the most dire of consequences. In the girls’ case, an innocuous aquatic romp with male classmates after school garners an indefinite prison sentence set within the confines of their isolated mountainside estate.

The routine motions the girls go through on their road to maturation are elevated by the film’s appreciable personality. Although the repeated instances of situational rebellion are entirely familiar in scope, the script is imbued with a genuine concern for each character to varying degrees of engagement. While these girls are undeniably miserable as a result of their unending solitude, Mustang‘s narrative does well enough in avoiding all-encompassing gloom-and-doom consequence until it goes irrevocably off the rails in its latter moments, losing sight of its earlier, better former self as it staggers toward what’s an agreeably tidy conclusion.

Without nitpicking, I’m confident in saying that Mustang is a serviceable debut that undeniably exudes promise from Ergüven. It combats familiar subjectivity with a singularity of setting that feels personal and remains engaging despite its shortcomings. While I didn’t connect with the proceedings as much as others, the film’s incisive gaze into the lives of these sisters is one of note, even if a fumbled latter-act crescendo pales substantially in comparison to what precedes it.