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Sundance

Sundance 2024 – Veni Vidi Vici

Headline: “Veni Vidi Vici” A Vicious Satire that Takes Aim at the Ultrarich

Billionaire Amon Maynard (Laurence Rupp) is living an idyllic life. He has a loving wife, three adoring daughters, and political clout to rival a president’s. He loves animals. He also loves hunting.

The problem with the hunting? He loves animals too much to harm them. So he chooses a different target—people. And everyone—his family, the police, even the politicians he pals around with—knows it. 

As the Ayn Rand quotation at the start of the sharp Austrian satire “Veni Vidi Vici” notes: “The point is, who will stop me?”

“Veni Vidi Vici” is narrated by Amon’s teen daughter, Paula (Olivia Goschler), and at first, her disaffected tone hints at the kinds of “the rich are different” scandals oft dramatized in fiction. But Amon isn’t a philanderer. He loves his family and protects them. Two of his daughters are adopted, and he and his wife are regularly intimate. Paula, his one natural child, loves her step-family and doesn’t hate Amon, but looks up to him and wants to learn from him—including how and what to hunt.

Amon may have a bizarre hobby, but it doesn’t cause him to be distant or unkind. His eccentricities are even seen as charming by some—or at least, tolerated. Money buys a lot of things, including complete, amoral freedom.

To be sure, some see through Amon’s veneer, including Volker Carlotta (Dominick Warta), a journalist, and Alois Sepperer (Haymon Maria Buttinger), a gamekeeper who witnesses one of Amon’s kills. But both can only despair at how everyone they tell refuses to hear them. And both can be sacrificed without consequence if need be.

Amon’s own brazenness makes their despair all the worse. More than once, Amon confesses—even to the police, who completely ignore him—and he continues his hunting spree—in broad daylight, no less—with impunity. His excessive wealth allows him to consume everything he comes into contact with, whether it’s via a hostile takeover or from his predilection for sniping.

Co-director Daniel Hoesl (fellow director Julia Niemann was not present) mentioned in the Q&A after the Sundance screening that he was inspired by Donald Trump’s declaration that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue in New York and no one would blink. He and Niemann also interviewed some billionaires, including a fund manager in Vienna who provided further inspiration. While it may seem that Hoesl and Niemann’s ideas for the film are taken to a ludicrous extreme, are they really? In one scene, Amon is introduced as the man without limits. Why? Because no one will hold him accountable, just as in the real world.

“Veni Vidi Vici” is entertaining, thought-provoking, and occasionally, incisively funny. When Paula tells us she doesn’t want to go to ethics class because ethics are “a waste of time,” it produces a laugh, but also a twinge of pain. She’s learning to be just as amoral as her dad, and presumably will pass that family trait on to her own family when she grows up. The cycle of naked capitalism goes on.

The film works because of three things: Hoesl and Niemann’s sure direction, Hoesl’s entertaining screenplay, and the commitment of all the actors. Rupp is particularly magnetic, and Goschler is good at switching between Paula’s higher ambitions and just being a regular teen. The soundtrack is also compelling, particularly the drum patterns and abstract vocals layered over the harsher parts of the movie.

In the end, “Veni Vidi Vici” implicates us in the Maynard’s misdeeds. Billionaires, the film posits, are the ultimate parasites, taking more than they give in return, destroying lives, absorbing and corrupting those who would oppose them into their warped view of humanity simply because there are rich. What’s worse is we let them get away with it.

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