Directed by: #DanteIanetta
Written by: #WilderCarnes
Vera is an icy, cynical piece of cinema from first-time director Dante Ianetta. A strange brew that resembles something like Gaspar Noé and Stephen King (Misery era) meeting in a Russian nightclub at 3am, Vera almost pulls off a thoroughly uncomfortable experience that serves as commentary on the right-wing, nationalistic fervour and xenophobia that’s sadly very palpable these days. However, some very amateur film-making technique sabotages the effort, making the viewer feel that the surface of the issue has barely been scratched.
The short film opens as the shyly laconic Vera (Sofya Nova) and naive businessman Jack (Timothy J. Cox) share a sensual moment in what looks like a cheap hotel room. We then cut to an ordinary-looking kitchen where Laura, Jack’s sister, (Tatyana Yassukovich) is preparing food for what will soon descend into the dinner from hell. Jack introduces Vera to his sister and shares their story: they met whilst he was on vacation in Europe and she has decided to start a relationship with him back in the US. Laura is immediately sceptical and makes no secret of her disdain for Vera, taking multiple tasteless shots at Vera’s foreign heritage and cultural background. Once Jack leaves to go for an inconveniently timed smoke break, Laura unleashes and begins to drown her guest with the fermenting curds of the milk of human kindness, which has very much expired within her soul. Laura suspects that Vera is taking advantage of Jack. Is she?
My big gripe with Vera overall is Wilder Carnes’ script, which has more holes than Emmental and leaves too much presumed and not enough adequately set up. Laura is a suitably Kathy Bates-esque crazy and Yassukovich’s performance is perversely enjoyable, however the character has a clairvoyant intuition into Vera’s motivations that only serve to undermine the overall theme of the movie when they are assumed to be correct. What initially seemed to be a parable on casual bigotry in the Western zeitgeist turns into something more complicated; not a criticism in and of itself, but we’re only given a very narrow insight into Vera’s past circumstances; aside from the natural sympathy accorded to Vera from Sofya Nova’s softly spoken and humble portrayal, viewers may struggle to reconcile how they’re meant to feel at the end of the film.
To Ianetta’s credit, the visual tone of Vera is cold and uninviting. Even during the shots at Laura’s house, ostensibly an ordinary domestic get-together, there is an uncomfortable atmosphere throughout and one can’t help but feel that the food must taste suitably bland and lukewarm too. The camerawork throughout is relatively stiff and undynamic, save for the opening shots in the hotel room and the final shot of Vera walking through the dark streets. It’s tempting to speculate that this was to make the claustrophobia felt by Vera even more apparent. The choice of music is also used to uneven effect: bookending Vera with the same piece of music, Ianetta achieves a certain grace in its use at the beginning, yet the music’s reprise for the end credits feels grandiose and out of step for the ‘kitchen sink’ realism of the film.
Vera shows showcases some competent directorial work and occasionally very good performances, but the poor writing ultimately gives a very unsatisfying experience and deflates the project. Strangely enough, Vera’s IMDB page lays out an exegesis of the whole story in the ‘plot synopsis’ section, meaning Carnes obviously had a solid conception of what the story was about and where it was going. That he couldn’t communicate this in the screenplay is odd and disappointing.