Vesper feels as bleak as its dark dystopian depiction of Earth, in the aftermath of an ecological catastrophe that has left the Earth mostly wiped out. You know, the ones where engineered viruses and the like are let loose into the world creating an ecological disaster. Yet there’s hope, brought to light through its main character, Vesper (Raffiella Chapman), a compassionate and intelligent 13-year-old girl skilled in biohacking. She’s a survivor, abandoned by her mother to care for her sick, incapacitated father. He follows and communicates with her via a floating head shaped drone, displaying an emoji like face, while remaining bedridden in their house deep within the forest. She spends her time scavenging the land for things to trade, energy sources to keep her father breathing, seeds to grow food, and following on in her father’s work, engineering their own food.
The inhabitants in Vesper’s toxic world are divided between the privileged elite, in their tall impenetrable citadels, and the unfortunate others, scavengers who are struggling to survive on what little they can forage from the junk of the past, while eating insects and broths created from fungus and bacterial concoctions. The oligarchs control the seeds, coded to yield only one crop. Their monopoly decides who will have access to them, which depends on what is traded.
The film is uniquely immersive, more so through its visually dystopian grimness, often transforming into a ghostly canvas of some medieval myth reset in a sci-fi dark age. The cinematography composes a limited palette and balanced tonality, begging to be sung as an endless lament to ecological devastation. This echoes as a cautionary tale with impressive emotional depth in classic European art house style. Its imaginative world building, of Earth recreated and coveted on intelligent and bizarre recreations of bioluminescent life forms and gory blood sucking flora. Steeped in surreal landscapes of bleak wastelands of overrun alien vegetation and twisted organisms. Overall, a beautifully crafted film.
Just don’t expect grand visual and narrative storytelling, this is not trying to be a sci-fi blockbuster. Vesper is indicative of culturally European science fiction, more in the tone of Solaris and similar works, but also inheriting the tropes and styles of other modern works of sci-fi. It’s a passion of love, six years in the making, directors/writers Kristina Boyte and Bruno Samper shot the film in Lithuania just as the snow began to thaw, taking advantage of the fairy tale mood of the country and referencing Dutch painters such as Vermeer and Rembrandt as key references to light the environments.
It’s hard to imagine how a young girl can survive the emotional turmoil she has to endure daily in such a morbid world, but she does, finding empathy and strength in her objectives and those she cares for in times where it might be lost. The focus is on Vesper, a gentle heroine who demonstrates the courage and capacity to take care of herself under impossible conditions. It’s her viewpoint of the world we witness and it’s through her eyes we learn how to find hope when all hope is lost.