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Veni Vidi Vici | 2024 Sundance Film Festival Review

Veni Vidi Vici | 2024 Sundance Film Festival Review

Destroy Everything You Touch: Hoesl & Riemann Come to Conquer with Dark Satire

As ABBA once succinctly stated, “Money, money money/Must be funny/In a rich man’s world,” which is certainly the case in the latest film by Austrian director Daniel Hoesl, co-directing with Julia Niemann. The pair previously co-directed the doc Davos (2020), featuring the locals in a rural Swiss town visited by wealthy elitists once a year, which sounds an awful lot like Park City, Utah, where the Sundance Film Festival hosted the premiere of this title (along with Hoesl’s similarly articulated 2013 debut Soldier Jane). Once the assistant director to the venerable Austrian provocateur Ulrich Seidl (who produced this film), Hoesl shares a certain streak of misanthropy with his mentor, introducing us to a family of impossibly callous elitists who feel something like the self-absorbed clan of White Noise (2022) who have developed a taste for playing the human hunting pastime from The Most Dangerous Game (1932).

Although there’s nothing innately shocking about this perverted social satire which takes a definite pleasure in bludgeoning us with its viewpoint (the film does open with a quote from that infamous Objectivist, Ayn Rand), it certainly seems to be having fun with its gratifying judgment of the well-heeled one percenters, even as it conveys a degraded level of sub-humanity which makes one wish the narrative ended by a giant asteroid colliding with Earth.

Amon and Victoria Maynard (Laurence Rupp, Ursula Lardi) are Austrian billionaires who only desire to have more. Amon is a successful entrepreneur on the verge of absorbing a colleague’s company and razing a local nature reserve for his own capitalist gain. But Amon’s real passion is being in ‘nature,’ where he professes to be a skilled hunter. However, Amon doesn’t hunt animals. Instead, he’s the not-so-secret responsible party for an endless murder spree which has taken the lives of countless, random Austrians. Witnesses reporting him to the authorities aren’t believed and journalists wishing to expose him are granted exclusive positions on his staff. Eager to take part in her father’s traditions, his daughter Paula (Olivia Goschler) bides her time for a murderous right of passage allowed for the wealthy.

It’s Paula, the wayward teen daughter who is clearly the most coldly inhumane specimen from this pit of vipers, providing mirthful narration for us. Her disdain for doing her ethics homework is one thing (“what a waste of time,” she sighs) but she’s surprisingly heartless towards her father, a man his colleagues define as skilled in ‘relentless entrepreneurship.” The film’s tagline could easily have been plucked from any one of her remarks, but in this world hurtling into entropy, it seems, indeed, that “everything created deserves to be destroyed.”

If Paula is the film’s death knell of humanity, those around her are complicit, to varying degrees. The apathy of Paula’s peers (one of whom champions French economist Thomas Piketty, despite being part of the system he actively criticizes) along with the privileges afforded those closest to the Maynards provides the perfect storm for the endless killing spree, which only gets closer to home as the film progresses. Another of Austria’s noted directors, Markus Schleinzer (who was an assistant director to Haneke before stepping out on his own) is on hand as the Maynards’ selfless helpmate, Alfred, though his role as someone who’s ‘like family’ isn’t enough to make him irreplaceable.

Lauded actor Ursina Lardi steals most of her scenes as a woman bemoaning the fact she can no longer easily get pregnant, insistent upon hiring a surrogate who doesn’t want any contact. Another nod to the madness we’ve mainlined is one of the local politicians being named Mr. Kafka. But despite all these touches, Veni Vidi Vici somehow doesn’t feel as subversive as it thinks it is. Titled for Caesar’s famed Latin phrase (and also the album title for the one-hit wonder band The Hives), which translates to “I came, I saw, I conquered,” Hoesl and Niemann’s most troubling note arguably arrives before the film’s opening credits as we peek into a world in which the conquerors are so pickled by the swoon of power the only daring move left is annihilation.

Reviewed on January 18th at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival – World Cinema Dramatic Competition section. 86 mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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