Review: Vera de verdad
- Beniamino Catena’s first work embarks on a poetic search for possible synchronic connections between space and time, but is ultimately too confused to satisfy sci-fi fans
What do an 11-year-old girl living on the Ligurian Riviera who’s mad about astronomy and a former soldier working on radio telescope security within the ALMA observatory complex located 5,000 metres above sea level in Chile’s Atacama desert, have in common? Nothing, apparently, other than the stars. Yet Beniamino Catena – an expert director of short films, music videos and TV series – sought to draw a line through this cosmic nothingness, linking together two lives in his feature film debut Vera de verdad [+see also:
film profile], a title screening Out of Competition in the 2020 Torino Film Festival. And indeed, astrophysicist Carl Sagan (whose novel inspired Robert Zemeckis’ Contact in 1997) once said himself that we were all made of the same material as the stars, namely “starstuff“.
Vera de verdad opens with the disappearance of a little girl, the titular Vera (Caterina Bussa), while on a cliff edge (the splendid Punta Crena headland in Finale Ligure) in the company of a teacher from her school who’s also a family friend Claudio (Davide Iacopini). He’s there to scatter the ashes of his beloved dog Runa. Vera has barely uttered the words “where there is fire…” when Claudio loses sight of her. The viewer is then catapulted 12,000 kilometres away to where Chilean national Elias (the charismatic Marcelo Alonso who has starred in 4 of the talented Pablo Larraín’s 8 films) suffers a heart attack while inspecting the telescope system of the ALMA complex (which in Spanish means “soul” and whose mission is to go “In search of our cosmic origin”). Presumed dead in the ambulance, the former soldier suddenly “reanimates”. After a lifetime of failures, his existence is now at a veritable turning point. Following a confrontation with his daughter (Manuela Martelli), whom he has a lot to make up to, Elias visits a machi - a shaman who helps him to experience visions and to find his purpose in the place where an Italian teenager, Vera, lives. This first part of the film, which unfurls amidst breath-taking scenery and is wonderfully shot in 35 millimetres via a 2.39:1 ratio by Maura Morales Bergmann (Santiago, Italia [+see also:
film profile]), might go some way to satisfying the expectations of serenely Jungian viewers who loved Kieślowski’s films and are familiar with notions of synchronicity, Plato’s anima mundi and possible connections between space and time.
Things become more complicated, however, in the second part, when a young woman (Marta Gastini) emerges naked and confused from the Ligurian waters, before instinctively heading to the home of missing person Vera. She has the vague feeling of being Vera, but in another body, and the latter’s doctor mother (Anita Caprioli) believes her. Her more rational father (Paolo Pierobon) rightly refuses to go along with it, but his mind is changed when the woman proves she can connect with nature in nigh-on miraculous fashion. Claudio, who has spent all this time feeling guilty about the little girl’s disappearance, as well as bearing the brunt of his fellow-citizens’ suspicions, is shaken by the appearance of this woman presumed to be Vera. Medical analyses reveal the girl suffers from a degenerative syndrome, owing to an accelerated metabolism. There’s not much time left. But for what, you may ask?
Between its numerous endings and sub-endings (the screenplay was penned by Paola Mammini and Nicoletta Pollero, under the aegis of Alejandro de la Fuente), the film feels the need to help the viewer close the circle and to provide a plausible explanation for a story that can’t have one; a redundant endeavour grouping together stars in collision, quantum teleportation, errors in the universe-system, returning dogs, burial rituals between Mediterranean peoples in Neolithic times and flashbacks in slow motion. It’s too much for a film which, with its meagre dialogue and minimal existential references, might prove a good example of what Paul Schrader refers to as transcendental cinema. This is a film too hybrid and indeterminate to full under the definition of science-fiction, or to satisfy fans of the genre.
(Translated from Italian)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.