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.