You can’t know the meaning of the phrase, “What a night” until you’ve walked a kilometer in Victoria’s shoes. The eponymous character in Sebastian Schipper’s fourth film is a recent émigrée from Spain with a lonely aura about her as she dances the night away at the type of club one would expect to find in Berlin. With no friends or contacts in the city, Victoria tries her best to be friendly with people in spite of not knowing the language, but falling back easily on English to communicate with people. Still, the only ones who express any kind of warmth toward her during those wee hours of the morning are a group of miscreants, Sonne (Frederick Lau), Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Fuss (Max Mauff) and Blinker (Burak Yigit), who invite her to drink with them as she’s riding her bike to the cafe where she works.
Excited to feel as though she’s part of something, Victoria accepts the invitation to accompany them to a rooftop, but with the caveat that she has to go to work to open the cafe after one drink. Sonne, who clearly takes a fancy toward her, is delighted that she would come with them at all, but he gives her an easy glimpse into his thiefish nature as the two enter a convenience store and he takes advantage of the clerk being asleep by stealing a few beers from the refrigerator. Although she’s reluctant at first, it seems as though, to Victoria, being among friends–people who might care about her–is more important than the ethics behind certain actions. Thus, she playfully joins them on the street to start drinking. A police car passes by, a subtle foreshadowing of what’s to come, but, of course, because it’s Europe, people can drink in public without the condemnation reserved for Americans. From there, they illicitly head up to a rooftop, where they continue to drink and smoke. After a bit, Victoria insists on leaving again, whereupon Sonne offers to give her “a ride” a.k.a. drive her bike to her workplace with her on the back of it. Victoria happily agrees, and while at the cafe, she offers him a “cacao cacao” to repay him for his kindness. The two continue to bond when Victoria reveals her piano-playing skills to him, confessing after playing a beautiful piece that she was in a conservatory that forced her to practice seven hours a day–the maximum amount without causing bodily harm. She then admits that they told her she wasn’t good enough, to which Sonne expresses astonishment just as his friends call him up to tell him it’s time for them to perform a mysterious “errand” together. Fuss, who is supposed to go with them, appears too inebriated to fill his role as getaway driver, prompting Sonne to ask Victoria to take his place. She eagerly offers to be Fuss’ substitute, not wanting to lose an opportunity to prove herself to Sonne.
In order for Boxer to repay a gangster named Andi (André Hennicke) for giving him protection while in prison, him and his friends are instructed to rob a bank of 50,000 euros upon arriving to a desolate parking garage with Victoria in tow. Andi demands to have 10,000 of the euros and tells them they can divide the remainder between them (though this seems far too equitable of a request for a gangster). As the trio of men express reluctance, Andi threatens to take Victoria hostage if they don’t obey the order. And with Sonne already attached to her, it’s inevitable that they’ll do as Andi says with Victoria as the driver.
In spite of the tension of the robbery (perfectly evinced by Schipper’s long, uninterrupted cuts), the quartet manages to pull off the stunt–or so they think–inciting them to continue to “make party” at the same club Victoria was at before. In another long take, Schipper shows them celebrating in the back room of the club, where Sonne and Victoria finally kiss, solidifying the mounting sexual strain that’s been present between them for the entire night. Their raucous behavior on the dance floor gets them kicked out by the bouncers, resulting in one of the most iconic scenes of the film, wherein Victoria kisses Sonne à la Tobey Maguire in Spiderman as she’s escorted up the stairs over Boxer’s shoulder.
At the height of their happiness, the group is rudely awakened when they realize they forgot about leaving Fuss in the stolen getaway car they abandoned in an alley. Returning to the scene of part of the crime, they see the police have swarmed the area and try as best as they can to act nonchalant by slowly walking away. But their reflexes get the better of them when a cop car approaches and they start to run, tipping the authorities off to their guilt. From here forward, it is a stressful journey, both for Sonne and Victoria, and for the viewer watching their plight as they try to escape from the law. As something of a re-working of that other German classic, Tom Tykwer’s 1998 Run Lola Run, Victoria plays up the premise of fatally doomed lovers, Bonnie and Clyde types condemned to be separated in some way by the circumstances of their fugitive status. And Schnipper does an incredible job of showing that painstaking voyage through the use of real time scenes–as evidenced by the length of the two hour and eighteen minute long film.