One of my favorite categories of Reddit posts (don’t judge) are those where people who have worked for or near the super-rich share stories that people “wouldn’t believe.” From ordering private jets like they were pizza to hosting children’s parties where A-list performers sing to indifferent toddlers, these stories make it quite clear that the 1% lives on a planet most of us will never visit. “Pharaoh-level shit,” as one of my favorite Reddit reactions of all time said.

The craziest thing about Veni Vidi Vici, Daniel Hoesl and Julia Niemann’s pitch-black satire about a wealthy family with a predilection for human-hunting, is that it doesn’t seem that crazy. 

The Ulrich Seidl-produced film opens with a quote from The Fountainhead, which can never mean a good thing unless we’re in store for a comedy. “The point is who will stop me”––a quote part of Ayn Rand lore turned into a motto by people who should be stopped––sets the scene for what turns into an irreverent, cynical work of art.

It’s strange to acknowledge I cackled when I first saw Amon Maynard (Laurence Rupp) aim his rifle at a person as if they were in pursuit of game. Decked in the epitome of rich-people elegance, Maynard seems to be the kind of man who has never heard no for an answer. His perfect hair and chiseled body exude the effortlessness that comes from not having any necessities. Killing a person doesn’t even seem to thrill him much as a fetish––it’s just something else he does in his free time. His butler Alfred (Markus Schleinzer) doesn’t even wink when he’s asked to collect something from freshly killed prey.

Luckily for Amon, his wife Viktoria (Ursina Lardi) is a powerful lawyer who can make sure her husband can keep up his hobby. The family is so powerful that they live above the law––ministers, public officials, and even the Prime Minster look the other way. There’s really nothing they can do to stop them, and the film smartly doesn’t make it about this. Journalist Volter (Dominik Warta) learns this the hard way when he becomes the “straight man” in what he sees as a court full of jesters.

Hoesl and Niemann understand this is the world we live in, and rather than get idealistic or romantic about it, they observe it sharply, rarely commenting on it, never aiming for ridicule towards anyone. The only commentary is offered by Paula (Olivia Goschler), Amon’s teenage daughter from his first marriage, who talks about her family like any teenager would. Her dad is uncool, his guns are not. 

Veni Vidi Vici is stunningly shot by Gerald Kerkletz, who composes frames that seem to be reacting to Amon’s presence. Scenes in the Maynard home exude peace and tranquility, despite the coldness emanating from objects therein. Outdoor scenes turn into claustrophobic tableaux where we know no one can hide from the powerful eye of his rifle. Likewise, he uses special goggles to see a beautiful area filled with trees and greenery transformed into the oppressive factory he’s building. Like a God, he decides who lives and can see the future.

What’s most admirable about Veni Vidi Vici is that Hoesl and Niemann avoid being too obvious about satirical moments. They don’t think they’re better than any of their characters, which is why they provide the same grace to the shocked Volter, who acts as if trapped in a bad dream, that they do Amon when he hears one of his adopted toddlers cry in despair. He runs to make sure they’re safe, and the fear in his eyes turns into heartbreaking relief when he realizes everything’s fine. It’s the only moment when his hair seems to move––two different kinds of nightmares. The film’s humanity towards those who can be inhumane is refreshing and humbling. It doesn’t suggest compromise (no, the film isn’t pro-hunting humans), but it also sees society with utmost clarity. Vidi, indeed. 

Veni Vidi Vici premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

Grade: B+

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