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VENICE 2022 Orizzonti

Review: Victim


- VENICE 2022: Slovak director Michal Blaško points a finger at the latent xenophobia in our society in his feature debut

Review: Victim
Vita Smachelyuk (right) in Victim

When her son is beaten up and winds up in a Czech hospital, Ukrainian immigrant Irina (Vita Smachelyuk) tumbles into a spiral of lies, taking advantage of people, being taken advantage of and harnessing the power of xenophobic tensions. In his feature debut, Victim [+see also:
interview: Michal Blaško
film profile
, which has premiered in the Orizzonti section of the 79th Venice International Film Festival, Slovak director Michal Blaško once again captures the plight of an outsider stuck in a complicated situation, carrying on the thematic focus he developed in his series and short films Suspicion [+see also:
interview: Štěpán Hulík
series profile
, Atlantis, 2003 and Zidka.

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The ones responsible for her son Igor’s (Gleb Kuchuk) stint in the ICU seem to be three Roma boys, a common sight in their rundown building in an unnamed Czech city. Igor, however, never specifically describes this turn of events. It is the investigator, Mr Novotny (Igor Chmela), who first suggests that Igor’s attackers “weren’t white”. As it turns out at a later point in the story, after tensions have already flared up, this was a lie uttered by Igor, who simply went off the rails in the hallway.

But at this point, it is too late to change the story. Blaško pointedly uncovers the societal abyss on the edge of which the two immigrants are standing. Awaiting confirmation of their Czech citizenship, any unrest could sabotage this process. A case in point is the prolonged questioning by Mr Novotny, who seems less interested in the deed itself, and more in why Irina’s citizenship was denied on the first attempt. Equally, the media attention that Irina has stirred up with Michal (Viktor Zavadil) – a former resident of her neighbourhood and, as it turns out, a man with ties to the extreme right, who uses Igor as the spark to trigger a racist revolt – has put her under public scrutiny.

The city authorities also compete for ownership of the narrative, offering Irina money and a flat in a better area. Even a recommendation letter for their next shot at citizenship is in the pipeline. As a viewer, one is subtly asked to pick a side. Is Irina exploiting the situation, or is she wilfully using a crack in the system that is so heavily stacked against her? They are both outsiders in a society, trying to survive. But the society of their adoptive country resents the local Roma population even more than the influx of Ukrainians to the Czech Republic.

In order to belong, Irina will have to do what every individual has to do to make progress – trample all over those who are left behind. Not only does Irina’s Roma neighbour get caught in the crossfire of all the media attention, but one of her sons gets arrested as a possible suspect. And even as Irina’s guilty conscience starts kicking in, and Igor denies that he is the attacker, the boy is kept under arrest. “He has a record,” is the simple answer. A window of opportunity, it seems, to get “another one” off the streets.

By keeping the setting of his movie intentionally vague, Blaško succeeds in creating a universal tale about two-class societies, repressed xenophobia and racism, as well as broken hopes and dreams. While he picks the Czech Republic as the setting over his native Slovakia, the location can be seen as a template for a commentary on all of Europe.

It’s a society scrambling to show itself off as enlightened, progressive and inclusive. But it also jumps at the first opportunity to unleash the ugly, long-gestating face of exclusion and persecution. Irina becomes a puppet for the opposing factions, knowing full well that neither will ever truly accept her. It’s a losing, uphill battle – so why not make the most of it while she still can?

Victim is a Czech-Slovak-German co-production staged by nutprodukcia, nutprodukce, Electric Sheep, Czech Television and Radio and Television Slovakia. It is distributed internationally by Pluto Film.

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Photogallery 06/09/2022: Venice 2022 - Victim

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Michal Blaško, Vita Smachelyuk, Gleb Kuchuk, Igor Chmela, Viktor Zavadil, Inna Zhulina
© 2022 Fabrizio de Gennaro for Cineuropa -,

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