My Friend Victor [Kamil Iwanowicz, UK, 2018]
Firstly, some quick advice: if you're thinking of treating yourself to a cheeky fry-up after this short film, think again! Kamil Iwanowicz definitely pulls the wool over our eyes with his fifth short film, and easily proves that a small cast can either make or break a short fable such as this. With a very simple poster and unassuming tag line, the filmmaker keeps all the tricks he can up his sleeve or, in this case as we later find out, up… somewhere else!
We first encounter Tommy, a young boy who, like so many young kids of this generation, is glued to a computer screen. The cinematography from the start and throughout the plot adds to the humorous peculiarities between characters. Tommy's almost untouchable stare into the perfectly framed first shot tells us this boy, though fully experienced in his fantasies of high octane action onscreen through gaming and movies, has become totally numb to a reality beyond his own. The voiceover of his mother, who stands concerned by his bedroom door, magnifies Tommy's state of isolation. Alongside the subtle pan centred towards Tommy, the voiced concerns of his mother bring us into the start of the plot, as she tries to gently call her son back into real life. Their brief conversation (if we can call it that) heralds the film’s central event – Tommy’s visit to the house of his new friend Victor.
We are next introduced to the elusive Victor, stood beside his stove in a beautifully crafted shot where he towers over us, as if we are laying in his saucepan; simple ingredients to his own schemes. A middle-aged, unsanitary recluse, Victor is not the obvious choice of friend for 13 year-old Tommy.
In contrast to the first scene with Tommy's ordered collection of films and video games, Victor's home is a disorderly mess, with bottles strewn on the floor and chaotically stacked books. Victor is not a character we can easily place, which adds, alongside those sunken eyes and dark red curly hair, to the theme of chaos Victor brings to the narrative. Then, if his external surroundings weren't enough, Victor's entire presence and behaviour do not match up with what we would expect from an acquaintance of Tommy. Even Victor’s choice of music is jarring, as he spices up his eggs in the frying pan to Carl Brown's ‘Tesco Value Gabba Part 1’, a song filled with violence and aggression.
Once Tommy finally arrives at his new pal’s pad, the inappropriate and awkward interaction between them playfully mirrors those all-too-familiar, cringe-worthy attempts to break the ice, but humours the audience by questioning how this unusual friendship ever came to be. Both characters make small references to an earlier topic of video games over which they might have connected in their first meeting, and we can see perhaps why Tommy had been persuaded to visit.
However, Tommy is met with disappointment when he discovers that Victor is fixated with a much earlier era of gaming, his preoccupations with an 8-bit video game on his TV not exactly how Tommy had envisioned this particular gaming session. Tommy, in the hope of finding new friendship and a chance to connect face-to-face with someone other than his mother, is left with a glimpse of the reality towards which his life might be headed and, by the state of Victor's shack, one not filled with the adventure and camaraderie of his video games. We are led to the pitiful conclusion that maybe Victor and Tommy aren’t polar opposites after all…
The criticisms of this short film are minor and (unlike the odour of Victor’s eggs) do not linger for the audience. The film’s denouement will likely have you still holding your breath from the events that swiftly build up following their initial meeting, with some strings still left untied and the characters’ motivations remaining unclear by the end. This ambiguity definitely works to the film’s advantage.
If you feel like you’ve missed a hidden gem within this madcap yet thoroughly engaging story, there is only one thing left to do: watch it again! With nothing less than a spectacular twist, we are led into a false sense of security in how this plot will develop. We are quickly thrown off course with a totally unexpected curveball. It will explain the first few moments of peculiar preparation on Victor's part; rituals that very few would ordinarily carry out for a new friend.
There are many warnings to heed from My Friend Victor, yet there is one that seems particularly pertinent: never eat somebody else’s unattended eggs!
'My Friend Victor' was a film submission in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.