Monday, January 6, 2014

'Kelly + Victor' (2013) directed by Kieran Evans

Ever been punched in the face by a lover?  Had crimson talons raked down your back?  Felt the cool sting as your palm strikes wobbling, gasping flesh?  If so then Kelly + Victor will tread familiar ground, the film tracing a finger slowly down old wounds, probing the exact boundary between pleasure and pain.  Why do we hurt the ones we love? Why do we thrill when the ones we love hurt us?

On a fundamental level Kelly + Victor is a classically constructed cinematic romance. Two people lock eyes across a crowded room and instantly gravitate to each other: love at first sight.  There's a flood of passion that's rudely interrupted when the real world comes knocking on the bedroom door.  The lovers are pulled apart by circumstances, come back together, dark secrets are uncovered, everyone learns something, there's a big smooch, a cheer and roll credits to oh, I don't know, let's say Maroon 5.

That crusty old romance plot is the skeleton that props up Kelly + Victor, but the meat on the bones is flayed and tortured - our lovers not glowing Hollywood stars but two young Scousers picking their way through a rotten hellscape Liverpool, suffering a litany of miseries from practically everyone they meet. This is an aggressively scuzzy film, wallowing in dirt, graffiti and eventually blood.  What director Kieran Evans appears to have set out to do is eviscerate the traditional romance, exposing the passions and psychologies of intense romance as something that destroys, a love as destructively awesome as an atom bomb.

The lovers are Kelly (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) and Victor (Julian Morris) who meet in dark nightclub MDMA soaked bliss, almost instantly heading back to Kelly's place for some lines, whiskey served in mugs and frantic animalistic sex.  In midst of a blur of pale English flesh, gangly limbs and sticky fluids Kelly pulls out a cord and wraps it around Victor's throat. Tugging it tight the two experience heights of passion beyond anything they'd previously thought possible, Kelly feeling the thrill of control and pure trust and Victor piercing the anoxic veil, his brain's reserves of oxygen depleting at the precise moment of orgasm.  It is objectively pretty great sex and from this moment their two destinies are entwined.

Everything should be just peachy now, but that pesky outside world will insist on sticking its big nose in.  Victor is involved in some pathetically low-level drug-dealing, his bonehead buddies taking a van up to a farm to pick up a load of meow-meow to sell, subsequently spending the rest of the film as overly aggressive wired dicks, always engaged in some weird alpha-gorilla display of masculinity.  

Kelly's situation is a little more complex.  Her only friend is a professional dominatrix who appears be trying to mould her into a protegee, bringing her along on sessions and encouraging her to join in with the beatings she inflicts.  Perhaps because Kelly is genuinely into this she resists, sensing some kind of hazy moral event horizon. Compounding the miseries of her sad little life is a violent ex-boyfriend who we soon gather has been imprisoned for abusing Kelly and has a restraining order requiring him to keep a certain distance from her - though he pays it little heed.  Kelly is a textbook victim of abuse and neglect, a tightly wound, obviously unstable ball of psychological neuroses.

Both actors put in great performances, though Campbell-Hughes stands head and shoulders above everyone else.  She plays the role with a bravery that's visceral and occasionally difficult to watch: the hi-def photography mercilessly outlining her pimples, dark red bloodstains on her clothes and snot hanging from her nose as she weeps in torment. Though the film shovels on the ugliness there's an unerasable pure beauty to Kelly.  She seems to float through the toxic urban ruins, her big eyes staring out of the screen with a wounded, intense pain - the kind of eyes you see in paintings of martyred saints.

The a thread running through all this bondage and urban shittiness is a desire to escape into natural spirituality.  Moments in sun-dappled parks and quiet woods are oases for the audience, a change to exhale and escape the unrelentingly grim cityscape.  There's an idea of some untamed Edenic wild trampled underfoot by stupidity and hate which informs the woozily violent sex, the sexual thrills sprouting like green shoots through piss-stained Liverpudlian paving slabs.

Even though we spend the majority of our time in some pretty crap environs debut director Kieron Evans goes to obvious lengths to find the most interesting angles to shoot from.  Long tracking shots follow the progress of graffiti along buildings and there's careful attention paid to vanishing points within shot composition, often placing the couple at the terminus of long diagonals that retreat into the frame; the streets becoming black holes that suck our lovers deep inside.  

This is a marvellously assured debut; every aspect of the film is obviously carefully considered and confidently executed.  Evans captures lightning in a bottle, depicting the orgasmic, violent flailings of two people who subconsciously sense they're circling life's plughole, as desperately trying to escape it as a snared fox gnawing through its own leg. This is a relationship hewn from both mutilated flesh and an apparently impossible desire for things to get better.  Kelly + Victor isn't exactly a fun watch, but it's important one - a film that gives voice to the unspoken psychic trauma of a generation of young people with no money, no prospects, no education and no future.  Find a quiet, solitary 90 minutes without distraction, curl up on the sofa and let it work its magic on you.


Kelly + Victor is released on DVD/Blu-Ray on January 13th.

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