Science fiction is one hell of a genre. It has the space to encapsulate almost every single thing you can think of. On one hand, we can have something of the size of Star Wars, a giant space opera where knights, wizards, robots, and armies battle for the fate of one galaxy. And on the other hand, we have a movie like Primer, where two friends invent the time machine and things get quickly out of control. Vesper, a new Belgian-French-Lithuanian sci-fi film, is the latest example of this. A movie that does a lot with very little, and it is without a doubt an example to follow.
Vesper is a film directed by Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper, and written by both of them in collaboration with Brian Clark. The film stars Raffiella Chapman, Eddie Marsan, Rosy McEwen, and Richard Blake. The film tells the story of the titular, Vesper, a thirteen-year-old girl who lives in a dystopian future after humanity tried to fix an environmental disaster and ended up creating something worse. Now humanity is left in a fractured world where inequality is the rule and where the search for food and resources is the only thing that matters.
Vesper makes a very powerful impression from the first minute of its running time by showing you a world unlike any you have ever seen, or that you have seen very little of. The movie is a mixture of the aesthetics of Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece, Stalker, and Hayao Miyasaki’s masterpiece, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. And like very much those two films, Vesper ends up being an experience both charming but also quite dark and mysterious.
The most impressive thing about Vesper is that its budget is very small. A reported 5 million euros were spent on the film. That is a lot of money, but nothing in comparison with the biggest blockbusters that arrive nowadays at our cinemas. The truth is that Vesper looks to be at least a film with ten times that budget. There are movies that have had 20 times the same budget, and they still look worse than Vesper. The amount of work from the VFX artists cannot be underestimated. This is a movie made with love, and you can feel it as you watch it.
The movie has a very understated tone, even when the visuals are made to surprise you and awe you. This is because, while the movie is focused on exploring this fantastic and terrifying future, it does so mainly from the point of view of the titular character of Vesper. A young girl who still manages to have hope in her heart even when everything else seems hopeless. Raffiella Chapman does an amazing job and basically carries the entire film on her shoulders in a way that feels almost effortless.
Writing is also key when it comes to delivering a strong character like Vesper. The script knows when to tackle big-picture subjects such as inequality, the environment, and pandemics like the one we are living right now in our daily life. But it also knows when to step back and focus on more personal matters. However, it is true that the script can feel a bit wonky at times. What is here is truly fantastic, but there is a need to be a bit more concrete.
This also translates into the film being a bit longer than it should be. Not by much, but at least 15 minutes could be cut, and we would still get the entire picture. The pacing and the long runtime might turn some people off, but for the most part, it is a very small nitpick for a movie that feels this well-made. It might not have the scale of something like Star Wars or Star Trek, but because of it, the movie feels closely relatable to what we live every day in our own lives.
It is hard to say who is directing what, but Buozyte has a clear command of what she wants to display on the screen. Her previous films, The Collectress and Vanishing Waves, also in collaboration with Samper offer some truly spectacular visuals, concepts, and ideas. It is very hard to imagine what she would do with the budget of a Marvel film, for example. Now, then things would truly get out of control. Maybe we might never know what a movie like that could look like, but the idea of it might keep audiences checking out Buozyte’s work from now on.
Vesper is a fantastic film. It is entertaining and charming, and it does stray away from tackling serious subject matters. The kinds of subjects we, as individuals living in the 21st century, have to face on a daily basis. Chapman and Buozyte position themselves as wonderful talents to keep an eye on, and it proves that countries such as Lithuania have what it takes to create new and original films. The kind of films that are truly needed right now, both in cinemas and on streaming services. Let’s hope more people out there give the film a chance. It truly deserves it.