Kelly+Victor is a haunting, candid depiction of a young couple embarking on a passionate and transgressive love affair. Adapted from the acclaimed novel by Niall Griffith, the film is directed by Kieran Evans, who chatted to Susan Leahy about this story of obsessive love anchored by two complex but tender performances.
I saw Kelly & Victor last week. It’s beautifully filmed. It’s your first feature film; you’ve made music documentaries before. What drew you to make this film?
I pretty much made music videos as a means to an end. What I was interested in was telling stories. The process of getting this particular film to the screen took a lot longer than possibly planned – being a first-time director it takes a bit more effort, and also the subject matter. It isn’t a rom-com, it isn’t a gangster film and it isn’t a zombie film – we started looking for funding for this film back in 2004, 2005. I didn’t want to make any old film. When I found the book by Niall the light bulb went off in my head and that’s how it all began.
It wasn’t easy, particularly because of the subject matter. We nearly got to the top of the mountain a few times only to be dashed by somebody just having a bit of cold feet and also the market. The market gets conservative now and again – when global wars take off – but we stayed true to what we wanted to do.
I had many offers to make other films and could have just parked it but I didn’t want to do that, I had committed to making this film and hard as it is sometimes when you get the rejection it’s also important to keep focus. Filmmaking is the school of hard knocks and you either believe in it or you don’t. It struck me to the core when I read the book and it stayed with me and it still stays with me, which is why I wanted to make the film.
The city has a really strong sense of place within it of Liverpool. What’s your relationship with the city?
The book is actually set in Liverpool. There was a dangle of a carrot to move to another city, to get funding from another area but the point was Liverpool is central to the book. It’s a character. I’ve been going there for years, as I’m actually a Liverpool Football Club supporter so that was another reason why me and Niall got on. Liverpool, when we started thinking about this film, had just been awarded the City of Culture so it completely changed the look of Liverpool – at least one area of Liverpool, the Waterside.
Liverpool is a city of amazing cinematic contrasts. You can go down to the Waterfront and feel like you are in some amazing Scandinavian city; then walk for a mile and you are in some of the most socially deprived council estates in Britain. If you scratch beneath the surface of Liverpool you get a lot more going on and that really helped us when making the film too. There is this beautiful decay. I love seeing cities like that – nature reclaiming houses and things like that with these shimmering glass towers in the background.
Your focus on the windmills, which you do at the start and at the end, is that your symbol of hope for the city?
Wind and nature are themes running through the film. I don’t want to over analyse it but things that were very key to me were like this idea of nature and things moving on. The cruelty of nature though as well – just the fact that you can see these lovely pigeons, these lovely birds and they are scavengers as well as humans are and the idea that bird song is a beautiful thing. Well it isn’t; it’s a cry for help; it’s letting your mates know you’re still alive this morning. So there’s lots of subtleties with regards to nature and the passing of time. Symbolically the way the wind rushes in and the tides and all that stuff, life will still go on, windmills will still be turning and life will still be turning.
It’s one of the few things I’ve seen set in Liverpool that doesn’t include football fans, even though I’m an Everton fan. I liked that. Was that a conscious decision?
Well actually if you are a Liverpool fan there is a very subtle reference to Liverpool Football Club. Victor has a quote from Bill Shankly stencilled on his wall. But we wanted to try and break that stereotypical thing, for me everything I looked at when researching Liverpool was kind of negative stereo typing, the Harry Enfield scouser guy still seems to be prevalent in today’s culture even though he was 20 years ago, Yosser Hughes “gis a job” and all that kind of stuff. Liverpool is far more interesting than that, we wanted to avoid the football colours thing. There are bigger things than Liverpool versus Everton.
How you filmed the story, your use of montage within the shots, between the shots, the sound, suggests to me the influence of Sergei Eisenstein. Who would you say are your influences?
I’m a massive fan of European cinema. When I read it (the book) I saw it almost as Scandinavian. I’m a massive fan of people like Thomas Vinterberg and Lukas Moodysson. I just find their way of storytelling is a bit more fascinating, a bit more human a bit more honest really. They all shoot with a very particular sense of style. I’m a massive landscape fan as well so I’m influenced by the European filmmakers but also people like Terrence Malick how he uses nature and landscape a lot to create atmosphere and evoke things, evoke emotions that type of thing. The British filmmaker I adore is Nicolas Roeg, then Derek Jarman, very much left field filmmakers, their way of working – pace, style. Nicholas Roeg has a great visual eye a wonderful way of composition.
And my mum, she used to watch loads of late-night films, kept me up late watching the Hitchcock classics and things like that, I remember watching Truffaut films with her as a 7/8 year old. Being shown films like that you get to see a different perspective on life. So my education started with my mum really, it was a nice way to experience film growing up, her influences stayed with me.
The film comes across to me very much as a contemplation on today’s society. Was that your intention?
It’s about a state of mind for me, right now. It’s very prevalent to what’s going on in Britain at the moment. The idea of a forgotten generation, the idea of acid house and things like that, the idea that hope was just around the corner, lifestyle choices, drug taking, there was going to be taken to a whole new world. There is a whole generation that lived the dream a bit and got left behind and not just with acid house. It’s like Kelly and Victor are lost souls, almost ghosts in the city, almost invisible to people on a bus, walking down a street. They act like they are ghosts. It’s much more about the idea of your hopes and dreams, you can live your life through someone.
It’s not a love story. They never say I love you – it never was that. These people have lost their connection with the world. They just want to feel something, they are desperate to feel and this is the point. People take these risks to feel something again, they want to be wanted to be reminded what they are here on this planet for – that’s what Kelly and Victor is about. Like they are two atoms colliding and the consequences of that; what is this person doing to me? In the book it’s what’s going on in their heads all the time but they don’t put it out there, it all comes down to the situation. When they are in the room together something happens the crackle, the skin gets goose bumps, something happens but they are so distant from the world they live in now, they can’t put a name to it, they can’t put a finger on what it is they are feeling and that’s a kind of interesting area for me at the moment. In terms of our society at the moment, how we are living, the idea of instant celebrity, instant everything – that it’s the way forward, it isn’t and I think this is like an inverse of that.
I didn’t get the sense that Victor enjoyed the sadomasochism, rather it was something society was telling him he should be enjoying. He should think it’s great but he didn’t trust her enough to?
I think the thing is he doesn’t trust himself enough that’s the point, Victor is this gentle lost soul, gently plodding along with life, sees his sister, the happiness she has and all that kind of thing but he doesn’t seem to be able to have that and he’s desperately looking out for it. Even though it’s not a search that’s driven by desire it’s an innate thing that happens in life. Your single – what if I go out tonight? If I don’t go out tonight what am I missing out on? This need to find your soul mate. He’s not in search of a soul mate but rather a connection and that’s what Kelly is – a connection to something. For me it’s a springboard to something else. It unlocks more in his head than he first imagined.
I found myself being sympathetic to Kelly. I actually quite liked her as a person but at the same time women don’t come across very well in the film. She could be interpreted too as the contemporary femme fatale – she destroys Victor and all that is good?
Hmm, we should have a lot of sympathy for Kelly, the abusive relationships she has been in, the abusive mother-daughter relationship. The thing is there is a kind of frustration with the world She had dreams, everyone has dreams, she finds herself selling cards in a shitty little market stall in a closing down market, this is not your dream. The rage, the anger you see in her at the end it’s not just about losing Victor, it’s about this is my life. Inside there is a rage going on in Kelly, a kind of lost rage, things haven’t gone right for her she doesn’t express that rage she doesn’t intend to damage Victor; she just wants to take him to another place, to help him do that. She wants to do something for somebody else, in that she hopefully wants to be taken to that place as well.
In the terrible climax, that breakdown afterwards isn’t just about what she’s lost with Victor but her hopelessness with life. Life is cruel, this goes back to the whole thing with nature – life deals bad blows to everyone. The butterfly at the start – the trapped butterfly – was to be a metaphor for her, this thing of beauty trapped unable to escape unable to get away from the course, the whole path that she is on and that is a path that a lot of people go down. It’s why I feel a lot of love for Kelly, a lot of passion, an incredible person struggling against the world battling against the world.
To end on a lighter note, last week was all about Gareth Bale, how would you feel if you were given €100million to spend on a film?
I’d feel great but I’d probably encourage them to make twenty €5million films rather than one…
It would be lovely, but can you imagine the pressure that comes with making a €100million film? But never say never…