The opening epigraph of Julia Niemann and Daniel Hoesl’s sinister Sundance drama “Veni Vidi Vici” is striking and, frankly, perfect: “The point is, who will stop me?” The quote, which comes from controversial writer Ayn Rand’s novel “The Fountainhead,” is the thesis point for the film’s entire premise, and as the haunting inciting incident plays out in the opening scene we see exactly why.
Using a juxtaposition of violence and an innate display of wealth—a polo match observed in agonizing slow motion—it becomes clear that the central family of this story is no ordinary rich brood. As the film unfolds, so does an ethical parable for the ages steeped in clinical beige and pools of blood.
“Veni Vidi Vici” is the story of German billionaire Amon Maynard (Laurence Rupp), who lives a blissful existence with his wife Viktoria (Ursina Lardi), his teenage daughter (Olivia Goschler) from a previous marriage, and the couple’s two adopted daughters.
The tech businessman is an avid hunter, but instead of harming animals he’s turned his sights on the unsuspecting residents of the quaint mountain town in which they live. Naturally, Maynard’s neighbors are shocked and terrified, but time and time again the charming patriarch avoids responsibility for his crimes, even when he speaks them aloud.
“Ethics. What a waste of time,” Maynard’s eldest daughter, Paula—a sadistic sort herself, a choice that plays well into Niemann and Hoesl’s thesis—says of playing by the rules. Hosel, who wrote the script he and Niemann direct, strikes this notion on our heartstrings repeatedly, as we see several good people try to take Maynard’s sick games to task in a way that will, they hope, matter. One of those people, a journalist named Volter (Dominik Warta), gets so wrapped up in the soul-crushing realities of money aiding power that he ends up imprisoned by it (and to say more would spoil the fun).
The sheer strength of the movie hinges on two major tentpoles, one of which is the sharp, smart story and script. It’s funny, it’s cruel, it dances with the dissolution of ethics, it gives youth a pass while dismissing age, it states this is all progress. It even asserts that “destructive force is a creative power,” indirectly claiming that there are justifications in this special kind of brutal sacrifice.
That one piece of the successful fable has to work in harmony with the other, though. So an effective script simply demands performances that will meet it at the height of the stakes it puts forth. Thankfully, Niemann and Hoesl’s film is impeccably cast. Rupp’s performance as Maynard is perfectly balanced. He oscillates between bold and unfazed in his actions, yet is so desperate and meek when things don’t go his way.
He is so unashamed and unaffected in the character’s most barbaric and unhinged moments, and it’s because he can juggle the different faces of Maynard that the performance becomes the film’s central driving force. Then there’s his teenage daughter.
Goschler is a quiet powerhouse as Paula, the silent but deadly secret weapon keeping the Maynards at arm’s length from culpability in perpetuity. She’s cold and unreadable and that, mixed with her bizarre kindness, is scary. Having an actress with terrifying presence is crucial and Goschler shows herself as an actress to watch simply with the way she stares down her prey. Paula’s stepmother, Viktoria, tows the sympathetic line quite well thanks to a layered performance by Lardi.
You can never quite pinpoint where her heart lies, and this kind of mystery goes a long way in making the Maynards feel almost cosmically untouchable—which is essential to the moral of the story. Rounding out the cast is a wonderfully reserved and sad performance from Warta as Volter, another role that has to be believable in the emotional complexities that bring him through his own personal madness. It’s all at the hands of those who are unafraid of consequences, and that in and of itself is a mindf—k. Volter’s version of it is delicate and tragic, thanks to Warta.
Niemann and Hosel’s collective directorial eye is filed to a point, much like an insidious shiv. They’re all about the visual, giving the audience tons of morbid delights to pick up on that inform more about these mysterious billionaires. It’s hard not to marvel at the family’s insane gun collection or the infinity pool Amon and Viktoria have in their sparse, Kim Kardashian-esque bedroom.
Their precision, much like Amon’s when he hunts his prey, is laser-focused on the film’s message, with every directorial impulse in service of presenting a worthy cautionary parable. That kind of specificity, paired with smart writing and acting—not to mention a deliciously frantic score that uses human noises to aid in the film’s overall tonal dread—turns a compelling idea into a fully-fledged sociopolitical satire of epic proportions. “Veni Vidi Vici” is like a piercing scream into the void, daring you to truly process what it’s telling you for fear you might fall victim to its apathy next.
In a press statement, Hosel opened up about his inspirations for the work, citing Donald Trump’s “I could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue” speech. When those words were arrogantly said, it never in a million years seemed that something good, or even great, could come from them. But “Veni Vidi Vici,” with its vicious bite, is exactly that: a frank look at the way history repeats itself over and over because of the impunity bestowed upon those who have everything they could ever want anyway.
“Everything created deserves to be destroyed,” the film states, and though it’s not an answer, none of this really is nor should it be. This sensational film is a mirror to society—and we’ve got some looking to do.
Veni Vidi Vici is a sales title at Sundance.
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