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Tonislav Hristov The Magic Life of V 

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The Magic Life of V | 2019 Sundance Film Festival Review

The Magic Life of V | 2019 Sundance Film Festival Review

V for Vanquish: Hristov Showcases Role-Playing as Trauma Therapy in Intimate Doc

Tonislav Hristov The Magic Life of V For his seventh documentary feature, Finland’s Tonislav Hristov returns to his home country to examine how a popular escapist medium has fashioned one young woman’s trajectory for dealing with significant internalized trauma in The Magic Life of V. Set amongst the popular subculture of LARP (Live Action Role Play), the notion of an alternate persona as both a safe zone and a powerful tool of psychological catharsis is explored through the experiences of Veera Lapinkoski and her alter ego, the effortlessly sanguine V. Hristov allows Veera to steer the trajectory of her own narrative, working backwards as an avid LARPer who wishes to reconcile some emotional baggage from her past so she can move forward with her life enjoying these events as a hobby rather than a crutch.

Veera Lapinkowski is actively and avidly involved in her passion for role-playing. However, Veera’s alternate persona, V, is the role she escapes into so as not to deal with emotional trauma she began experiencing in childhood. But wishing to become more independent as well as more beneficially support her mentally disabled older brother, Veera begins to examine how her LARPing has provided her with a means of avoiding dealing with uncomfortable familial issues involving their father. Home video clips of the siblings as children are visited with a chilly sense of estrangement, and eventually Veera is led to confronting something she’s been avoiding from this specific period to release the anxiety which has begun to cloud the fantasy world she has held onto so dearly.

Introducing her handicapped brother into her world to also draw him out of his shell is where The Magic Life of V begins to morph into explaining why Veera’s obsession with LARPing has so significantly defined her, and what it was used to shield her from. Exact details of the abuse she suffered as a child are left somewhat obscured, though her father’s alcoholism should be more than enough to fuel one’s imagination of the possible dysfunction faced by Veera and her brother, whose condition (a severe fever as a one-year-old was significant enough to render him intellectually delayed) also was the source of turmoil for Veera, who was forced to act as caretaker and protector for her older sibling.

The initial awkwardness of the film’s immediate foray into Veera’s role-playing segues quickly from the insincere artificiality of a fantasy environment to the stark parameters of a kitchen-sink drama. To Hristov’s credit, Veera Lapinkoski becomes an incredibly empathetic screen presence—if only we were allowed something a bit more fruitful in either the land of the LARPers or a stronger lean-in and build-up to a climax where Veera confronts her father. While Veera may have at last grasped some emotional resolution for herself, this result is a bit of a soft sell, lending Hristov’s documentary as more of an elemental case study which could be utilized in a classroom setting. On the other hand, its final, closing moments bring us to a poetic visualization of the spell Veera has thrown out across Finland’s snowy plateaus, though at the end of the day it’s a vehicle which ends up feeling as if it was too gingerly steered.

Reviewed on January 25th at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival – World Cinema Documentary Competition. 87 Minutes.

★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com'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), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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