Victor In Paradise

By Brendan McHugh | Comedy
A young painter desperately tries to get money to stave off eviction.

Dreamy and lost in his own world, Victor is an artist and painter who lives and works in a tiny, sparsely furnished apartment, where he labors over his detailed paintings to the exclusion of nearly everything else in life.

But when his landlord Eleanor threatens to evict him for overdue rent, Victor must raise some money. But as he encounters obstacle after obstacle, he is forced to reckoning with the pressures of his reality.

Written and directed by Brendan McHugh, this short dramedy is a bemused, eccentric portrait of a dreamer out of step with the outside world. In many ways, the storytelling is as thoughtfully considered and detailed as its titular character’s paintings, combining sharp observation with dry but affectionate humor and a slyly soulful meditation on art and life.

With themes and characters revolving around art, visuals take on certain import, and here, a washed-out, softly muted color palette and gentle naturalistic lighting reflect the pensive landscape that Victor is painting. The softness of the color and image — the short was filmed on 35mm using vintage lenses — makes for a dynamic tension with framing that emphasizes the objects, environments and details of Victor’s world, with a certain meticulousness that may remind some of Wes Anderson.

As Victor scrambles in, out and around many wide framing of the short, the storytelling finds a Buster Keaton-type of comedy in the interplay with other characters and details, as well as explores Victor’s inability to master the mores, customs and expectations of the world around him. He navigates a series of situations in his attempt to make rent, like going into a gallery to sell his art or trying to chew his crunchy old toast more softly as his landlord pounds on the door. These moments are haplessly funny, but also add up to a character who finds himself hunted by the demands of everyday life.

Actor Nicholas Braun — best known for his Emmy-nominated scene-stealing work as cult-favorite character Cousin Greg on HBO’s Succession — imbues Victor with a similar awkwardness and oddly endearing affability as his most well-known role. But it’s woven with an introverted sense of wonderment and reverie. There’s a rich, private landscape in Victor’s mind — one that, interestingly enough, the audience isn’t quite privy to, except through Victor’s art. This internal world is much preferable to reality for him, and deeply precious — and perhaps it’s why Victor is reluctant, deep down, to sell the art that he’s made to represent it. But when all the pressures come bearing down on him, this imaginative landscape is where he wants to escape to most.

With its offbeat, deadpan execution and charmingly offhand humor, “Victor In Paradise” has the initial appearance of slightness. But like the character of the perceptive, sympathetic gallery assistant that Victor encounters fleetingly, we intuit there’s more underneath the surface, and many of the images and moments of the film have a strange, sweetly poignant resonance, as does the ending. In many ways, Victor ends up achieving what he’s longed for the most as an artist: he becomes part of the landscape he’s been exploring within himself. He has become his own work of art, where the borders between life and imagination dissolve in a world of his creation, to the exclusion of all else.

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