Victim (2022)

Victim (2022)

Movie Details

Director: Michal Blaško
Cast: Vita Smachelyuk, Gleb Kuchuk, and IgorChmela
Movie Type: Drama
Release date: 6 April 2023
IMDB Rating: 7/10
Languages: Czech Ukrainian Russian
Duration: 1h 31m


Victim (2022)


Another of the successful domestic films that premiered at the Venice festival is coming to Czech cinemas – and just like in the case of Ordinary Failures, it is a striking film that will probably not be missing from the annual lists of the best that was created in our co-production. The Victim is a supremely federative work, sponsored by the Slovak side in terms of production and direction, but set in Bohemia, in the Czech language, and with Czech actors (in addition to Ukrainian ones). However, the outlined topics are relevant for the whole of Central Europe and perhaps even further – at the core, Michal Blaško’s film is more reminiscent of the Romanian New Wave films than anything else.

It was precisely the Romanians who, in the middle of the decade before last, came up with a strong crop of moral dramas dealing with the social problems of contemporary society and filmed in long, carefully composed shots. And this is exactly what the current Victim looks like, which is its greatest strength and weakness. It is impossible to get rid of the impression that Slovakian-Czech cinema has no choice but to copy European art trends, which have been celebrating festival successes for more than 15 years. For viewers who are familiar with this work, it will be a matter of recycling motifs and stylistic choices known from earlier works, and we can have a long discussion about whether the delayed realization of what works elsewhere is the right way for domestic filmmaking. The majority of the audience, however, will probably not be bothered by this comparison, so more demanding viewers will simply enjoy the mastered in all aspects,

Blaško has already been considered one of the greatest talents of domestic film, and this year confirms it. The Bratislava native caught the attention of the five-year-old student film Atlantida, 2003, for which he also received the Czech Lion, and subsequently gained experience in serial production. He also received many praises for the miniseries Suspicion, and his feature debut The Victim made it to Venice. And all the superlatives are in place – in Oběti, together with screenwriter Jakub Medvecký, who participated in the similarly tuned moral drama Sharp Knife, they created an unflattering, but all the more realistic and plastic image of Czech xenophobia.

The protagonist of the story is the Ukrainian cleaner Irina, who would like to open a hairdressing salon. However, the more urgent goal is to obtain Czech citizenship. He lives together with his teenage son Igor (Gleb Kuchuk) in a block of flats in a small Czech town, where he has to deal with both the problematic minority of Roma and the problematic majority of Czechs, who look down on both Ukrainians and Roma. However, everyday problems recede into the background when Igor is brutally beaten right on the stairs of his house. He will not be able to continue in the gymnastics track and for the family, this is a violation of basic life guarantees.

The case is subsequently investigated by the police (incarnated by Igor Chmela), and although initial prejudices point to Roma children, the truth may be a little different in the end. The town mayor (Gabriela Míčová), who cares primarily about her media image, and the civic activist Selský (Viktor Zavadil in Jan Palach’s first major film role ), who can use the situation for his own goals, also get involved. None of the characters can be said to be unequivocally good or bad, on the contrary, they are (within the defined space) meaningfully portrayed characters whose motivations are easy to understand.

That brings us to the aforementioned similarities with the Romanian new wave, and comparisons with the Iranian dramas of Asghar Farhadi ( The Breakup of Nader and Simin, The Client ) come to mind. It is no coincidence that Răzvan Rădulescu, associated for example with the monumental The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, participated in the script. In this way, we gradually watch the consistent tightening of the screws, each subsequent scene unfolding with overwhelming causality. Logically understandable decisions are made step by step, and the characters can’t be surprised that they behave exactly like this – but at the same time, from a distance, it is obvious that they are driving themselves to destruction.

The media has a story, politicians have publicity, the wheel is turned and it is very difficult for a person to jump out of it – especially with the cards dealt like this. For Irina to obtain Czech citizenship and thus a chance for a better life, she must retreat from many of her moral principles. The intentionally ambivalent conclusion raises questions about what it means to “be a Czech” and who is the victim in a country where all minorities are ostracized.

Ukrainian actress Vita Smachelyuk deserves recognition in the lead role, whose Irina is not a melodramatically flawless heroine dragged along by fate, but an ordinary, believably grasping woman trying to improve her living conditions. In the same way, the precise work of Adam Mach, Blašek’s regular cameraman, can also be seen in the result. The one-and-a-half-hour-long film is (er, again following the Romanian model) shot in several minute-long shots with the careful distribution of characters and objects within the mise-en-scène, which greatly enhances the impression of inevitable fate.

After Venice, The Victim received attention at other world festivals and is also the Slovak ambassador to the Oscar race. And it’s no wonder – the Sacrifice is certainly not lost in the offer of current festival creations. It is filmed civilly, but attractively, and the main theme of manipulation within family and societal relationships plays out with overwhelming non-negotiables.

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