56th BFI London Film Festival Review – Kelly + Victor (2012)

Kelly + Victor, 2012.

Directed by Kieran Evans.
Starring Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Julian Morris and William Ruane.

SYNOPSIS:

A tragic love story adapted from the novel by Niall Griffiths.

Love’s a wonderful thing. You meet a girl at a club. You go back to hers and, en route, cover the majority of your lives so far. Where you grew up, your guiltiest childhood moment, what you were doing earlier that day. Sometimes you even discuss the future. Like, what are you up to tomorrow?

Then, once back at her place, helped along with a nightcap, she gently chokes you while making love for the first time.

That’s normal, right?

For the film’s titular characters, it is. They’re both amblers in life. Kelly (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) works in one of those ramshackle birthday card shops, the physical manifestation of ‘recession’. Business doesn’t appear booming, so she occasionally moonlights by helping her dominatrix best friend sexually torture men with more money than self-pity. One of their clientele is a banker. “You’re pathetic,” she whispers, disgusted, to the gagged and bound masochist. The cinema audience suppressed a cathartic cheer.

Victor (Julian Morris) leads a more subdued life, as a manual labourer on the docks. His dream, though, is to work on a nature reserve. The film never lets you forget this. Shots of him walking through wooded areas in tranquil awe permeate every other scene, similar to how Gladiator shows off its Elysium Fields.

These cutaways mostly appear whenever Kelly and Victor are engaged in one of their increasingly violent sexual encounters. After their first meeting, they become infatuated with one another, going on dates and getting more and more carried away in the bedroom. As Kelly tightens her grip around Victor’s throat, and his eyes start to bulge and body contorts, the film flashes back to those moments of him walking through the forest. Handheld shots, with the camera’s iris way open. We drift from steamy bedroom to grassy fields with every oscillating thrust. (Such scenes are rather difficult to watch seated between two elderly women in the BFI. They weren’t impressed with the ol’ ‘yawning arm round the shoulder’ trick.)

Kelly + Victor follows, well… Kelly and Victor, as they tragically descend down their path of infatuation. The sub-plots help alleviate the main narrative’s weight with a little bit of humour, but they’re mostly equally as depressing. Victor’s friends are selling drugs, and Kelly’s ex is a nasty piece of work. In fact, it is to those latter two that the film’s best scene belongs. Cornered in a pub, we’re offered a glimpse as to why Kelly might like inflicting pain on the opposite sex so much.

The film looks stunning. The early scenes in particular, of buildings upon buildings, are a masterclass in framing. Tower blocks encroach at the sides of an inner-city park, and windows in a brick wall enclose an overgrown garden. Those shots are static, slow, almost as though John Ford were behind the camera, fussing over how high the horizon should lie. Those in the woodlands are handheld and lofty. A dynamic is created between the two, not nearly as dramatic, but certainly recalling, the contrast that Orwell exploited for Winston and Julia’s escape in 1984.

The acting throughout is superb. The supporting cast aren’t afforded much screen time, but their characters are all unequivocally convincing. Morris has these wonderfully shiny eyes, encapsulating this dock worker who dreams of plants and wildlife. He also bravely bares more than his soul in the film’s most difficult-to-watch scene. But it is to Campbell-Hughes that the film belongs. She’s stoney-faced right until the end, cautious and wounded rather than unemotional. Such a void of expression accentuates her slightest of smiles when Victor promises he’d do anything for her.

Each flicker of sentiment is like a crack on her resolve, threatening to zig-zag across her face, releasing the tides of emotion she’s keeping behind her weathered damn. And boy, when it breaks, whatever happened to her before, and everything that’s happening to her now, flows and flows and flows.

P.S. The should’ve called the main characters Sarah + Matt. Everyone loves a pun.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★

Oliver Davis