Victim (Obet) – Review

Victim ObetMark Twain is noted as observing that “a lie travels halfway the world before the truth can get its boots on.” What may have started out as a small way of avoiding bigger consequences soon becomes all encompassing. And, once you are too deep into the lie, there is simply no way back. That is the premise of Michal Blaško’s Victim (Obet).

The film opens with Irina (Vita Smachelyuk), a harassed Ukrainian mother who is desperate to get back to the Czech Republic where her son, Igor (Gleb Kuchuk) has been taken into hospital with serious injuries. A broken down bus sees her frantically knock on car windows to see if she can hitch a ride back. Horns blare, shouts echo in the night sky and a general sense of frustration pervades.

It’s a dramatic opener which neatly crescendos with Irina seeing her son, hooked up to several machines, unconscious in his hospital bed. More than this, there are rumours swirling in the apartment block where she lives. Some say that Igor was the victim of a vicious attack by three Roma boys. Was he really left for dead at the bottom of a flight of concrete stairs whilst his mother was back home, seeking paperwork that would improve their chances of citizenship and, therefore, a new life?

Vita Smachelyuk’s utterly frazzled performance really drives this quiet, low-key drama. At times, the camera feels like it is looking over her shoulder as she paces up and down, fighting for answers at every stage. There is no score to the film so we hear every ragged intake of breath; every scuff of a shoe on the hospital corridor; every baby crying late into the night.

With the police, in the form of Igor Chmela’s Inspector Novotný, breathing down Igor’s neck for an identification of his attackers, Irina goes into lioness mode. She’s protective of her son, adhering to his every need and worried about his future as a result of his injuries. Until he drops the bombshell that there was no attack; that he fell of a handrail whilst trying to impress a girl. Suddenly, Irina is torn between personal loyalty and public image, as she and her son are swept in a maelstrom of racial prejudices.

Victim ObetThe battle of wits between Irina and Igor soon dominates. Irina is genuinely torn about telling the truth. In keeping quiet, she has been promised a new house and a large cheque. She’s also unwittingly become the face of a fascist march. Igor is determined that the lie must be maintained for his own personal reputation. So there is this really neat conflict between the public and the private that, thanks to Smachelyuk’s strong, earthy performance, takes flight.

The bleak colour palette emphasises the strain of the lie – and perhaps the strain of the overall living situation for the rows upon rows of immigrant or lower income families crowded into the crumbling grey tower blocks. Everything feels drained and washed out. Lots of steely blues, faded purples and musty greens flood the screen. The only burst of colour is the vibrant purple that Irina’s friend is intent on painting their hair salon.

Blaško attempts to cover a lot of ground within the film’s 90 minute run time. There is commentary about poor, immigrant families being squashed into one room whilst their landlords demand extra cash for every perceived misdemeanor. There is prominent discussion about discrimination towards the Roma community. There are hints at corrupt local government, always on the look out for a “feel good” story that will make officials look better. And there is plenty to say about the rise of the far-right, social media and “mob mentality”.

The problem is that each of these issues is a stand-alone film. So, in attempting to cram all of this into the narrative surrounding Igor’s lie, it means that most of these issues are thinly skimmed. It’s a shame as, if the script perhaps only focused on one or two in more depth, it might have made a bigger impact.

Victim doesn’t quite pack the emotional punch that it ought to. It feels like it runs out of steam towards the final act and the lack of any real resolution is frustrating. It’s a film that had the potential to say a lot but, ultimately, doesn’t say anything.

Victim is showing at the Glasgow Film Festival 2023. Get your tickets here.


Mary Munoz
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