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Director: Michal Blasko (Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany). Year of Release: 2022

A bus, somewhere in between Ukraine and the Czech Republic. Nothing is moving. The driver makes an announcement that there’s been an accident up ahead, and the traffic police are prioritising small cars. The bus is going to be stuck in a queue for a while, but people should stay nearby. Those who want to smoke can go outside, but please no going into the local town on a shopping spree.

An agitated woman goes up front and asks how long they’re going to have to wait. “About 4-5 hours”, guesses the driver. She insists that she gets her luggage from the storage section at the bottom of the bus, then takes it and knocks on the cars in the queue asking if they can take her to the Czech Republic. She’ll pay for the petrol. Her teenage son has just been hospitalised, and she needs to get back home a soon as is humanly possible.

When Irina gets back, her son Igor is still unconscious. She returns home where she gets into a row with the Roma family who live directly above her. Water is flowing down into her flat. The parents are not home, but the kids deny that it’s anything to do with them. Then Irina catches one of their kids having a shower. After telling off the kids, she tries to leave the flat, but they have locked her in and she has to fight for the key.

Irina is contacted by the police who are interested in what happened to Igor. When he regains consciousness, Igor tells them that he was beaten up by 3 kids. Did he recognise any of them? No. “Were they white?” prompts Irina. Almost imperceptibly, Igor shakes his head. Soon after, we learn that Igor lost a kidney in the attack, which means that he must give up his dreams of being a professional gymnast.

Other people start to get interest in Igor’s accident. There’s the fellow gymnast who is organising a demonstration in his defence, and arranges for a tv journalist to interview Irina. Then there’s the opportunistic mayor who on the one hand warns Irina that the demo for Igor might be infiltrated by neo-Nazis, while at the same time agreeing to speak at the demo. The mayor awars Irina a large cardboard cheque for a new flat provided by the real estate company backing her mayorship.

It is about this time that Igor makes a confession. He wasn’t actually attacked, he was mucking around in the stairway trying to impress a girl, and fell downstairs. He only told the police about the attack so as not to lose face. But the lie has now gained traction and admitting it now would create problems, especially for Irina and Igor who still don’t have full residency status in the Czech Republic. Wouldn’t it be easier to go along with the whole deceit?

The eponymous victims in the film do not suffer because of individual acts of aggression, but through failures in the system. The Roma kid upstairs is arrested and charged, even though there is no evidence against him, because everyone just assumes that Romas are aggressive (witness for the prosecution: Irina’s question about the skin colour of the attacker). Meanwhile Irina is a repeated victim inside a society which systematically discriminates against Ukrainian refugees.

While this is all going on, there’s a subplot about Irina’s attempt to set up a hairdressing salon with a friend. Until now, she’s been cleaning and occasionally translating – a job which largely consists of telling Ukrainian refugees that they’re about to be evicted – but she’s trying to make something of herself. She makes small breakthroughs, and may even find herself a properly paid job, but she’s still living in a country where people break her car windows for no reason.

Victim is an enjoyable film which, at an hour and a half, doesn’t outlast its welcome, but I do think that some parts could have been a little more substantial. Director Michal Blasko has said that he did not want to make the film overly political, which you may or may not see as a reasonable goal. All I want to say about this is that it’s a bit difficult to casually mention neo-Nazi racism against Romas, and then stand back and say “but we don’t want to be political”.

Maybe I’m just a bit dumb and need things to be written in 8 metre high text, but I felt a little cheated by the former gymnast colleague of Igor’s who is organising the demo. When Irina tells him that she’s concerned about Nazis appropriating the demo, he looks offended. Is It Nazi to worry about teachers’ salaries? At the demo, he makes an ambiguous speech which calls for justice for the falsely arrested Roma kid, while stage winking at his racist audience.

These could have potentially been great scenes, but the film’s desire to avoid politics gives him plausible deniability. We are not shown a racist who is trying to manipulate the grief of a mother who’s boy can no longer follow his chosen career, but a concerned citizen who may be just misunderstood. Maybe it’s the job of film to care more about moral ambiguity than naming and shaming Nazis, but I felt here that the film could have been a little more explicit.

Nonetheless, Victim is well worth watching, For one thing, unlike many films, it doesn’t focus on people who live in plush country houses or huge Manhattan apartments, but in concrete tower blocks where if you’re lucky, you can get a room with a balcony with a view of even more tower blocks. This is a film where people lie of necessity, to preserve their residency status, not just to make themselves look good. Sure, it has its flaws, but on such a basis they are flaws worth taking.

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