DIR/WRI: Kieran Evans • PRO: Janine Marmot • DOP: Piers McGrail • ED: Tony Kearns • DES: Anthea Nelson • CAST: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Julian Morris, William Ruane, Stephen Walters.
An intense, but at times, hollow endeavour, Kelly + Victor mixes the kinky with the clunky to middling effect. A story of damaged lovers and damaging sex it does have some stunning images and provocative themes but the sketchy arc framing these fleeting moments feels half earned.
The first encounter between the titular couple is an elegant visual dance, as they catch eyes in a nightclub, the prowling quality of intital attraction is conjured well. That silent flirtation is a place where private histories have yet to intrude, the hunt before the hurt. In fact when conveying story beats through images alone, the film largely succeeds, it is when words and mannerisms must carry the narrative is where the film falls short. While the elliptical nature of the two characters is admirable in certain respects, the film teases more than it ultimately delivers in terms of character.
Wandering accents delivering stilted dialogue wounds the central pairing and the worlds they belong to away from each other are drab and grim. Kelly joining a prostitute friend of hers and taking part in the sexual humiliation of a submissive banker continues the theme of sexual power games vital to the films arc but it never wholly convinces, while Victor flits between a sensitive art student demeanour and an amateur drug dealer subplot that feels jarring. There is certainly chemistry between the two but it only breaks the surface when the film is stripped back to lustful basics.
Much has been made of the violent sexual games here, Kelly’s desire to choke Victor and on some level his need for such treatment and it must be said the film judges these scenes quite well. The shots are never explicit, neither actor is being presented in some gratuitous light, it is the act itself which is shown most prominently. It is uncomfortable viewing when shorn of such Hollywoodisation, the glamour one usually finds attached to sex in Cinema is reduced to something this grimy and voyeuristic.
The extremes of Kelly and Victor’s dynamic almost feels like an act of rebellion against how banal their lives and the rest of the film is. We see that Victor can cherish the natural world as a respite and the sequences of him exploring woodlands and tall grass have a lo-fi Terence Malick flavour. Kelly seems trapped in a lesser Andrea Arnold mould, more urban, dealing with the ramifications of a failed romance and an obsessive ex who is keeping tabs on her. This split is interesting to note as it gives vague context to the motivations for the characters but there is not enough of a hook outside of shock value to make you invest completely. On a performance level both actors give good accounts, Campbell- Hughes imbuing Kelly with a brittle and compelling edge while Morris walks a fine line between endearing and laddish, but these virtues feel buried in a workmanlike script that outside the bedroom, feels sleepy.
As they circle each other in an on again off again fashion, one begins to feel anxious as to where such a desperate tale might take us and its conclusion has a faint air of inevitability about it, not because of anything in the film per se, but more because as a defiant indie work, such bleak results seem almost de rigueur.
It is an interesting choice of the filmmakers to only have them interact in a few key scenes while separating their domestic lives entirely. While innovative and realistic it hobbles matters in many ways because once they leave one another for their periphery stories, the film doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do.
Essentially a compelling idea but with a love story that isn’t given enough room to breathe, and if you’ll allow me some black humour, that is a most ironic assessment of the piece as a whole. The movie should be admired for not playing it safe but it is material that could have used some more “safe” words.
18 (See IFCO for details)
Kelly + Victor is released on 17th September 2013