Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Review of Kelly + Victor (2012)

Kieran Evan's "Kelly + Victory", based on the book of the same name by Niall Griffiths, opens with a sequence in which the eponymous Kelly (Antonia Campbell Hughes) watches a moth fly against a window. She is passive. does she empathise with the moth? Is she torturing it? Enjoying it suffer? We don't know, and will never know. Already an ambiguous tone is set here, in which we are shown the actions of characters without being told what they symbolise. The next scene, where Kelly meets Victor (Julian Morris) in a night-club on his birthday also highlights perfectly a certain poetic realism the film tries, and succeeds, and juggling throughout. Deep, romantic cello music plays, signalling a romantic union, but it also fades into the thumping 4/4 beat of traditional club music. The scene is also shot in a way that recalls a similar scene in Xavier Dolan's "I Killed My Mother", all red-lighting and smoke. In a sense, we are being given a real view and a romanticised, stylised view.

This, bravely, does not let up throughout the entire film, this expert balance of feeling and description, the simultaneous poeticisation and commitment to realism. It works brilliantly.

We follow Kelly and Victor home. They flirt. Talk. There's a certain spark here, and it's testament to the actors that we feel it ourselves. They are even comfortable enough around each other to take drugs. As sure as night follows day, they are making love, in a wonderful, beautiful scene. And before we know it, in the throes of their love-making, she has slipped her hands around his wrist and is strangling him. Wordlessly. There's something at the outer fringes of communication going on here, a mutual bond happening before us.

I've described up until about ten minutes into the film, and won't describe much more other than to say that, as you have probably guessed, their relationship is charted from this point onwards, and that the film is equal parts dual-character study and wonderfully rendered love story. I was impressed at the length to which Evans allows us to come to know the pair, and as a result the length to which we come to care about them. I have rarely become so invested in the fate of two characters, and a great, quivering, fragile emotional intensity is achieved by the final frame. There's a master's touch at work here, and it surprises me that this is Evan's first feature. This is the kind of masterpiece a director can only really dream of achieving.

What it hinges on, primarily, is its presentation of human sexuality, and whilst you may be thinking from what I have described that this is a document of an S+M relationship, this is no British '50 Shades of Grey'. Look at the scene where Kelly goes to an actual dominatrix's dungeon, and is visibly uncomfortable, where surely she should be in her element from how she's treated Victor. Instead of being about sadism and masochism in the traditional sense, the film is a document of two people who happen to satisfy each other in the most peculiar ways. The film is more of a rumination on the ways we psychologically medicate and express ourselves through sex.

It also, lovingly, describes British life in a way I greatly related to. I loved the scenes set in pubs, pub gardens, art galleries, and the countryside. Victor so adores the countryside is a lovely little touch that draws out his character and inspires awe in the viewer; we almost feel as one with nature as we watch it. Cinematographer Piers McGrail, who had worked in short films before this, has drawn a picture of the world as sensuous as the kind found in a Malick film, and as sensual as the kind found in a Marquez novel. And he has composed two masterful shots which will stay with me for some time; I won't say what they are, but they are climactic scenes in more ways than one, and focus on the solitude of the characters at respective points. Even picturing them in my head stirs deep emotions in my heart.

This is a rare, rare film. It's a cruel, harsh, wonderful, tender piece of work that with skill and precision uses two actors and their bodies to highlight the minutiae and great wonder of human sexuality. I was reminded of a number of other masterpieces of sex; Crash, Secretary, Shortbus, Shame, and in fact this film stands among them. It is a poem, requiem, hymn, soliloquy to the human body and the things we are capable of doing to ourselves and others.

It could even be one of my films of the decade come 2019, and believe me reader, that is not something I say lightly.

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