Ralf’s review published on Letterboxd:
I'm a sobbing, broken mess and all my fears that I wouldn't experience this magnificent film in the same powerful way I did in the cinema five years ago are washed away. From the first scene, in which we meet the multi-faceted character Victoria, I was transfixed again.
She's alone, in a city that's foreign to her and she has been there for three months. She ran away from a life where people had told her to give up on her dream after more than a decade's worth of time spent pursuing it. She's starved for companionship and is desperate to make a connection — any connection. When we first meet her she's dancing alone in a club, ordering schnapps and drinking it by herself, shyly inviting the bartender to join her but he doesn't. Victoria is not just alone, she's lonely and, how fitting that someone nicknamed "Sonne" (the sun) would shine a light her way and get her attention. It's the figurative light coming from his eyes when he first sees her. It's an instant attraction for him and, sure, he's drunk but he feels drawn to her by something more than just a script demanding it to be so. He is fascinated by this girl and, even though he's in the company of three of his friends, he courts her and flirts with her. I really love Sonne and the way Frederick Lau plays him. I love his awkward and broken English but that he feels brave enough to talk to Victoria in spite of it because he too wants to make a connection and not long after they will make one for the ages.
It happens when they are both sitting at a piano in the café that Victoria is working at. He jokes about being related to Mozart and plays a few distinguished sounding notes and then something magical happens: Victoria, who didn't have much of a guard up to begin with, truly lets Sonne in. She bares her soul and her deepest regrets and it's heartbreaking to see and hear what beautiful music she can play on the piano only to find out that someone else deemed it "not good enough" for her to pursue it as a career. It's right here that Sonne falls in love with her and, in turn, Victoria with him. She even says to him that she thinks she's falling in love with him and the kind of connection these two have — a real chemistry — is palpable through the screen and it's a rarity that is truly beautiful to witness.
From there on out director Sebastian Schipper continues to build his cinematic tower of inevitability with every passing scene. All decisions are important, none are reversible, the film has to go on and can never stop, it all happens in one night and in one continuous take without any visible or even invisible editing trickery in plain sight, though hidden it might be somewhere but the camera alone is not what makes this film so great. Yes, the level of skill and craft is enormous and certainly pushing the envelope of cinema but it is merely the most fitting tool to tell this story of an unforgettable night in which anything can happen and nearly everything does happen.
Every main character in this film breaks my heart where in real life, looking at them from the outside, these would be people — the male characters in particular — I'd admittedly stay away from, yet the magic of cinema allows me to get to know them from the inside out. Sonne, Fuß, Blinker, Boxer, each one of them has their own little story of how they got to where they are and how they became friends and there's something about the mysterious and romantic nature of the nighttime that it makes me empathize with their plight and with Boxer's in particular. There's no room for judgment, just pure unaltered empathy that they have to go through the things they are forced to go through and I loved, loved, loved walking in their shoes for a few hours.
This is an exemplary masterpiece of cinema that you need to feel and not understand because chances are you won't. Some of the decisions these characters make are shocking to the core and insane (most definitely fueled by the alcohol and the drugs they consume) but it shouldn't be picked apart rationally because that's not the language this film is communicating with you in.