Berlin Film Review: ‘The Magic Life of V’

Variety | 2/15/2019 | Dennis Harvey
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The surprise Oscar nomination of impressionistic “Hale County This Morning, This Evening” suggested a broadening of acceptance towards documentaries well beyond standard “Just the facts, ma’am” territory. Still, juggling style and substance will always be a tricky matter in that form, as evidenced by a film such as “The Magic Life of V.” This latest from Bulgarian-Finnish nonfiction director Tonislav Hristov is so invested in looking like a polished narrative feature that it seems downright uninterested in providing basic intel about its subjects.

That’s a problem, since this is no abstract slice of evocative atmosphere, but a movie about a real-life young woman dealing with family issues of alcoholism and mental disability. It’s not enough for the film to look great; can’t we get some actual insight, too? The alluring craftsmanship will no doubt keep “The Magic Life of V” — which premiered at Sundance en route to the Berlinale — busy on the festival circuit. But it’s likely to frustrate viewers who hope to actually learn something about the people being so carefully photographed.

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We meet Veera as an apparent teen participating in an elaborate LARP event in rural Poland, where she and others don ankle-length robes to combat “demons” in a Hogwarts-type environ. These “live action role plays” have a therapeutic as well as escapist effect for many, as evidenced by the occasional tears, and Veera’s own emergency session with a staff “counselor” when “things hit too close to home.”

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She seems to attend such large-scale games fairly often, using them to work through emotions otherwise suppressed. They’re primarily rooted in the abusive past behaviors of the volatile, hard-drinking father she’s now estranged from, in particular his treatment of her older brother Ville. Both siblings have been bullied,...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Variety
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