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Affluenza

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Gerald Kerkletz/Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Veni Vidi Vici (2024)

As with “Love Me,” “Veni Vidi Vici” is another movie aimed at 13-year-old girls from the Sundance Film Festival that has not been marketed as such. The clue is in the age of the narrator, Paula Maynard (Olivia Goschler), the cosseted daughter of an Austrian gazillionaire who is learning what capitalism allows the privileged to get away with. And her family is indeed privileged. Her stepmother, Viktoria (Ursina Lardi), wants another baby, so is shopping for surrogate mothers – “your sperm, my egg, her stretch marks” – and her father, Amon (Laurence Rupp), a hugely successful businessman, murders people for fun.

That’s right. Amon’s idea of relaxation is to take a hunting rifle into the mountains, or the parks of Vienna, and snipe someone at random. He then hands over the gun to and swaps cars with his butler, Alfred (Markus Schleinzer, a great stone face), who destroys the evidence while Amon goes about his day organizing new factories and meeting with government ministers. He doesn’t even bother to hide his face. When the topic of the sniper terrorizing the area comes up, Amon tells anyone listening that it’s him. The evil is so blatant that you wonder why Amon bothers with the proprieties of destroying the evidence, until you realize this is a kids’ movie and a metaphor for all the crimes corporations have been openly committing recently without consequences. Planes falling from the sky? The British post office forcing employees to use inadequate financial software and then prosecuting them for theft despite knowing of their innocence? Those random examples would be hard to dramatize in a 86-minute runtime, so directors Julia Niemann and Daniel Hoesl (who also wrote the script) went in this direction instead.

The gleaming, sun-kissed visual tone and alienating musical choices on the soundtrack owe a great debt to the works of Ruben Östlund, while the fact the Maynards also have two adopted daughters of color is the same shorthand recently used by Catherine Breillat as a smokescreen for a certain type of liberal-seeming evil. It’s also notable that the only person arrested on suspicion of being the sniper is the au pair’s black boyfriend (Yves Jambo), who is driving a car borrowed from the family. And of course the name Maynard wasn’t chosen by accident, either. It’s the kind of sophomoric subtlety that would work extremely well on girls Paula’s age, but where the movie goes wrong is that it has Paula delighting in the family’s impunity from consequences. Ms. Goschler has little true acting to do since Paula not only loves her father but also agrees with him, which means the conflict in the story is only in the disconnect between the horrors shown and the family’s failure to react appropriately. In the slow-motion opening sequence, Paula commits a vicious foul as part of a polo match which enables her team to win and which the family celebrates. Later she shoplifts from an Asian supermarket; and all Viktoria says to her about it is that she’s better than that.

The movie is betting its success on teenagers being up for a hate watch, forgetting that right now character likability is the major audience concern. It would have been so much more interesting if at first Paula had been a sullen little social-justice warrior, contemptuous of her parents and railing against the family’s comforts before slowly being enticed to the dark side. Or not! Instead the final sequence pulls its punches, proving beyond doubt this is a movie aimed at children. “Veni Vidi Vici” might delight in showing how evil is allowed to operate in full view, but even in those circumstances, it knows that some crimes are so atrocious the only human response is to look away.

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