The arresting performance of Mariana di Girólamo in La Verónica (2020) cannot save this cinematic experiment from the consequences of having a shallow plot and a visual framework that doesn’t stand the test of a full-feature film.
Let’s meet Veronica. She’s thirsty for making a name for herself, and is determined to cross any border necessary to achieve her goal. After becoming a beloved wife of a soccer celebrity Javier (Ariel Mateluna), Vero is now set to become the face of Chile’s leading cosmetics brand, Beaut. As you may suspect, there are other influencers in the mood for scoring the contract. So, will you help her and follow her account?
No, there’s no CTA button, but for Verónica, every moment of her life counts as a follow-me opportunity.
Before we dive into the story, there’s a particular artistic concept that catches attention right away. Few scenes and you get the gist – every frame in La Verónica (2020) is a still, fixed shot, which finds the protagonist in the center of the composition. Guess what – that is precisely how the narrative is built too – around the attention-craving goddess of Instagram. While there were films in the past that utilized the same idea – one such example was Valentyn Vasyanowych’s ingenious Atlantis (2019) – this artistic choice adds a very specific layer to the film’s narrative. This is Vero’s world, and we’re only living in it, as to paraphrase a famous meme.
There’s a reason why I begin the review of La Verónica (2020) from the visual perspective. Just like the reduced screen ratio in Xavier Dolan’s Mommy (2014) and Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse (2019), Leonardo Medel’s cinematography occupies a pivotal place in the film. One can read it as a representation of the emotional state of the protagonist, her obsession that is laser-focused on self-absorbing egocentrism. Verónica loves the spotlight, and there’s barely any limit to self-loving, and no-shame attitude she displays. Therefore, those still frames speak volumes about the protagonist, but, unfortunately, there’s a downside of that visual choice too.
After some time – and despite the well-paced editing and colorful sceneries in which we see Vero – this brilliant concept wears off quickly. Medel can’t justify the stillness of every frame, with some scenes suffering from poor lighting or little importance to the plot. And while Xavier Dolan smartly waved the expanding screen ratio as a moment to breathe for the main character, while Robert Eggers aimed for a suffocating atmosphere, Medel struggles to justify the anti-dynamism of La Verónica (2020).
That’s partially mended by Mariana di Girólamo, recent star of Pablo Larrain’s Ema (2019). The Chilean actress embraces this role to the fullest – she’s a master of disguise, whom we can never really crack, infiltrate or define really. Layers of controlled reactions, fake grins and meaningless but oh-so-well-put-together words create a shell so thick that’s impossible to see through it. After her solid performance in Ema (2019), di Girólamo rises as one of the most curious icons of not only Chilean cinema, but indie as a whole.
On the narrative’s side, Leonardo Medel arrives quite late to the party of films that fully (or partly, at least) antagonize non-existing icons of social media. The director seems to strive for a fabulous tale of spectacular climbs and even more turbulent falls. He realizes how embarrassing Vero can get, and well – she knows it too. But does she care?
Therefore, if appearing on @Influencersinthewild was a lucrative deal, she’d do it. It’s no secret that many modern starlets prey on scandals that fuel their sky-rocketing careers. For Vero, there’s no shame in supporting a social campaign for burn victims just to boost her followers base, or “use” her Insta-friend in a sexual retaliation against her husband. She’s a modern predator who, as a result of years of evolution, exchanged physical strength for a more deadly combination of Internet and truly Machiavellian determination. It’s a no-hold-barred game, baby.
On that note, La Verónica (2020) brings to mind films such as Spree (2020) where the goal of having followers clouds morality and rational thinking, becoming the ultimate sedative, better than any Soma dosage that Huxley could possibly imagine. But criticism of the era of social media isn’t new, and Medel struggles to discover novelty. La Verónica (2020) follows beaten paths in the many ways that Vero perplexes, shocks and irritates us, all of which she does in the manner you can observe on your daily Insta feed too. Even though Medel puts forward the question of whether to despise or admire Vero, there’s hardly something to discuss the the credits roll. Honestly, last time I felt so betrayed by the finale was when watching Playground (2016).
By the end of the film, the plot doubles down on its most vexing ideas, and Leonardo Medel might have taken La Verónica (2020) in the least expected – but also woefully disappointing – direction. The triumphant conclusion aims for a similar effect as The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), turning Vero into some kind of evil genius. But setting aside the shocking value, the film eventually falls through, particularly due to this finale. Maybe it has been wrong to expect a deeper film about the most shallow part of our modern world?