‘Kelly + Victor’ at Triskel Christchurch

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Ronan Doyle on Kelly + Victor, which screens in Cork at Triskel Christchurch from 6-9 October. On Tuesday, 8th October director Kieran Evans will present the film and take part in a Q&A session after the film.

The scene in which Kelly and Victor meet is a fitting embodiment of the sort of stylistic and narrative traditions Kelly + Victor intends to bring together. Their swaying bodies painted with the pulsating red light of nightclub neon yet set to the tune of the soundtrack’s classical music, this first encounter sets the stage for the anachronistic tension that will define both their relationship and the film that chronicles it. This is a movie from its earliest moments set on delivering the old in the context of the new, expressing a familiar story via a foreign framework and finding—or at least hoping to find—a modern perspective on age-old issues.

 

Like the sequence that finds Victor carefully transferring his record collection to CD, Kelly + Victor meticulously maps old material to a new mode of expression, delivering its rather traditional take on a burgeoning young romance through the rarely-seen lens of sexual extremity. Born in the throes of intense passion, the sadomasochistic airs the couple’s affair adopts offer an intriguing externalisation of the emotional dangers of falling in love. Adapting from Niall Griffiths’ novel, writer/director Kieran Evans wrings fascinating drama from this dangerous dynamic, framing the pair’s asphyxiolphilic encounters in tight, quickly-cut close-ups that concurrently convey their alarming aggression and the depth of attraction their excesses attest. His sequences at once sensual and startling, Evans delivers a consuming portrait of the darkness of desire.

 

The love-sex divide is Evans’ primary concern here as he contrasts the intrinsically human aspects of the former with the inherently animalistic fervour of the latter. It’s a tension that works only when balanced in a believable romance, a task more than aptly managed in the actors he chooses. Antonia Campbell-Hughes carries herself with consummate sadness, her physicality and quietness such that the eventual reveal of a troubled past comes as no surprise at all. She is a shy wonder, casting askew glances that bestow on Kelly a gentle curiosity like a half-scared kitten, yet also so strong, her timid demeanour hiding a certain temerity to equal that of Julian Morris’ Victor. He is, at least in the way he projects himself, an archetypal lad; it’s in the efficiency of Morris’ portrayal that the fallacy of that projection is revealed.

 

They work off each other wonderfully, these actors, their mutual shyness making of their scenes together a particularly involving partnership. Each needs the other, in their own way, and it’s testament to the success of Evans’ characterisation that we should strive to see them together. But what drama would there be if they found each other and lived happily ever after? It’s a stale necessity of storytelling that they must at least momentarily fall apart, and one Evans never manages to deliver in a way that doesn’t feel just as perfunctory as it is. Well constructed though the characters may be, well established though the tension of their dynamic is, that point of the movie where their differences drive them apart feels less a step in the natural path of this pairing than a dramatic abstraction deployed as a matter of course.

 

Like a lover held at the mercy of a partner’s overzealous throttle, Kelly + Victor struggles to breathe from the moment it accepts the prescribed course of its drama. Its eventual ending is as dull as it seems to think it is daring, sacrificing the surprisingly poignant potential of its premise on a conclusion only the inattentive would struggle to see coming. Evans has on his hands here a powerful piece of drama, a bold story whose contentious content belies a simple look at the redemptive capacity of companionship. Love, after all, is nought more than entrusting ourselves—physically, emotionally, psychologically—to another. Until it doesn’t, Kelly + Victor understands and communicates this complexity with endearing affect.

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Cinema Review: Kelly + Victor

kelly-victor

 

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.

 

Emmet O’Brien

18 (See IFCO for details)

94 mins
Kelly + Victor is released on 17th September 2013

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Interview: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, star of Kelly + Victor

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Photograph by Hugh O’Connor

When Kelly (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) meets Victor on the dance floor of a Liverpool nightclub, the attraction is instant. After wandering through the night they find themselves at her flat, making love with a passion and urgency that neither had experienced before. Both Kelly and Victor are struggling to get by as best they can, while the people around them are choosing illegal lifestyles; she is escaping a brutish former lover, while he is being dragged into a world of drugs.  It’s when they make love that their darker instincts take over.

Kelly + Victor is a raw, compelling, passionate love story. Susan Leahy sat down with Antonia Campbell-Hughes to discuss her role in Kieran Evans’ film, which is released in cinemas 20th September 2013.

 

I saw the film on last week you come across as though the film is made for you. How did you come to play the role of Kelly? Oh, and your accent was brilliant.

Thanks. It’s funny, when I first read the script I was very drawn to the character. I read the book and was aware that I couldn’t do a Scouse accent and that Liverpool was such a part of these people and I thought that because of the following of the book and the integrity of the writer, Niall Griffith, who was so involved with the project, that I didn’t stand a chance of getting the role.

I’m a complete obsessive when it comes to being true. I’m an adopted Irish American person in the UK, not a true Brit, never mind Liverpudlian, but the second I walked in the room and I met Kieran Evans, the director, he felt I was the person for the job immediately. It furthered my interest in the role – that he was able to discard surface and could focus on the intensity and energy and soul of the character and hold that as key.

 

It really comes across that you trusted him, not just the sex scenes but because of the way he filmed it. There had to be a real trust there?

He kind of bowled me over all the time.  The thing is, I don’t think anything is black and white in any walk of life but I think there’s beauty and integrity and art in every arena and there’s saccharine in every walk of arts or the media, so when it comes to nudity and sex scenes in the vast majority of film and television it’s handled quite crassly and that’s because sex sells and money makes films and television and we all buy into a bit – I’m guilty of it too.  I don’t necessarily want to make it.  So when it came to nudity there was this, ‘oh, you can’t do that, it would be horrible’, but I knew Kieran was someone who would handle it well. For him, everything is valid; everything he does has purpose, and I kind of picked that up from him from our first meeting.  The way he spoke about it, there was a respect and trust there, and he’s truthful.  That’s how I like to approach my work; everything has to be 100% truth. If you don’t believe in it why would anyone else?

What is different and what was interesting about the sex scenes, and the reason I don’t find them shocking, is because it wasn’t very voyeuristic. You feel like you are in it with them, the two people, Kelly and Victor. They’re not role-playing; it’s not dubbed on S&M nonsense – not that it’s nonsense – but for them it would be, it would just be too glamorous almost. It’s a leap. It’s as though they are finding something that they don’t have labels for or names for. They are just existing very much in the moment in their encapsulated bubble. And when we were filming it Kieran was in that bubble.

Sequence-1-03433600 Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Julian Morris as Kelly and Victor
 

I felt  that the way he cuts between the sex and the conversation, that really, from the audience’s perspective, takes the voyeuristic element out of it. It becomes part of their conversation as opposed to their sex?

Exactly, myself and Kieran talked about it a lot and again what really resonated with me was the chemistry between everybody and it’s not like this glamorous fairytale thing. That’s the beauty of it – they are people whose lives maybe aren’t fantastic and they’ve had pasts littered with mess and awkwardness and maybe they have very simple jobs or not but it doesn’t really matter.  It’s when they come together that there is that kind of almost euphoric drug-like blindness where the world disappears and all that matters is what’s happening; the energy between them. It doesn’t really matter if it’s love or lust or friendship. It’s like a chemistry crackling. It’s like a time bubble, and so in order to get that across in the film you have to sort of disappear into that.

I don’t want to be all hippy about it but it was a really enjoyable shoot because it was kind of like participating in a magical moment in this person’s life. In terms of shooting the sex scenes we went into a room for a week and we had conversations about what was needed to be caught on camera for logistics because there is a certain way that they choreograph their own sexual  playout.  Like it’s only a game; it’s a thing but there is a rhythm to it that they discover. I don’t think it’s manicured or orchestrated. So we went into a room and just shot and shot and shot.  Kieran was just literally beside me, with a little monitor, and he would almost sometimes even move us physically apart and not break or interrupt something, like if there was a boom or something in the frame he would just push it out. There was an organic constant in that week of shooting.

 

The film also comes across as a contemplative criticism, if that’s the right word, of modern culture of modern society. How do you feel about the film’s portrayal of women?

It’s interesting, something I struggled with and we talked about it a lot… it’s like, how do you show Kelly’s strengths without making her too dominant? If she’s callous, if you show her weakness, then she’s just another revenge-seeking girl. Then there’s also that neurotic crazy girl stigma. This is something I was constantly questioning  – asking how do we find the balance?

 

The way I was watching it, she comes across as somebody who’s not that into sadomasochism. She couldn’t really hit the guy for money, stuff like that. It’s more as if she can’t receive, as if she has been so destroyed by life that she can’t receive physical love?

I know. It’s like if you kick a dog it’s going to bark and bite whenever a human comes near.  There is a comparison I suppose, people find hurt I guess. I think a lot about the work I do. I don’t just do it. Maybe I think too much? At the end of the day the film is a collaborative process of all kinds of factors. Your performance is only one thing and what I did love about Kieran is we talked about all these things a lot.

 

Sometimes great roles for women are horrible women. 

I kind of saw her and Victor as gender interchangeable, the tender heart-bearing soul one is Victor; he almost takes on the Eve role.

 

He’s the garden and nature, she’s the city?

I just saw them as two lost souls who are in want of closeness striving to connect, but can’t find away to tap into that.  Sometimes people say they have to feel pain to feel they have found something because there is this callous layer and it’s also like a self protection.

 

You put so much preparation into really getting inside a character . I know you’re an actress but how do you come back to your self afterwards? Is there something that you do? Do you have a ritual after you make a film?

The thing is its not like I have a way or a method of doing things, it’s certain roles that demand a level of responsibility, or require you to be in a quiet place, Kelly + Victor was very different.  It was such a short amount of time on screen. It was done at a much faster pace so it’s just down to the material – it’s not like I have my method.

It’s a performance and I want to constantly learn, to change.  I’m not the type of person who  does an amazing performance and then goes home. I want to keep learning and changing and developing.

 

Check out our interview with the film’s director Kieran Evans here

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JDIFF 2013: Preview – Kelly + Victor

11th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (14-24 February 2013)

Kelly + Victor

Fri, 22nd February
Light House 1
20.00
90 mins

 

A haunting, candid depiction of a young couple embarking on a passionate and transgressive love affair, adapted from the novel by Niall Griffiths. The film stars Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Julian Morris.

Director Kieran Evans will attend the screening

Book tickets here or drop into Filmbase.

 http://www.jdiff.com/

 

 

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Irish Feature in The London Film Festival’s Rising Stars top 10 list

This year the London Film Festival’s Rising Stars top 10 list includes 2 Irish actors Jack Reynor (What Richard Did) and Antonia Campbell-Hughes (Kelly + Victor) and director Gerard Barrett (Pilgrim Hill). They join a list of the top rising stars who have already impressed critics and received awards at festivals this year. This is a group to keep an eye on…

Riz Ahmed – Reluctant Fundamentalist
James Floyd – My Brother The Devil
Jeremy Irvine – Great Expectations
Tom Shkolnik – The Comedian
Jack Reynor – What Richard Did
Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Quvenzhanè Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Gerard Barrett – Pilgrim Hill
Antonia Campbell-Hughes & Julian Morris – Kelly + Victor

56th BFI London Film Festival runs 10-21 October 2012

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