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KARLOVY VARY 2022 Competition

Review: Vesper

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- After 2012’s Vanishing Waves, Lithuanian director Kristina Buožytė and French helmer Bruno Samper return with an impressive dystopian sci-fi film

Review: Vesper
Raffiella Chapman and Eddie Marsan in Vesper

“Don't wake me for the end of the world unless it has very good special effects,” wrote US fantasy author Roger Zelazny in the book Prince of Chaos. It seems like much of mainstream cinema is engaged in keeping audiences wide awake as it continually tries to out-Armageddon itself in a blaze of CGI. This is partly because commercial cinema has always been about the spectacle. But cinema also reflects the mood of the world, and with climate change, war and disease all a grim reality of everyday life, it’s understandable that the end of the world always seems right around the corner.

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Whilst Kristina Buožytė and Bruno Samper’s Vesper [+see also:
trailer
interview: Kristina Buožytė and Bruno …
film profile
]
, having its world premiere in the Crystal Globe Competition at the 56th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, eschews the over-the-top histrionics of your typical Hollywood blockbuster, it contains just as much of the wonder and sumptuous visuals. And, just maybe, this Lithuanian-French-Belgian co-production contains a little bit more heart and intelligence.

Thirteen-year-old Vesper (Raffiella Chapman) lives on an Earth in which the ecosystem has totally collapsed. Inhabiting a dilapidated old shack with her bedridden father (Richard Brake) – who can communicate through a drone which follows his daughter around – Vesper forages for food in the unwelcoming forest whilst also experimenting in her lab. When she discovers a crashed ship from the Citadel – a fortress for the “great and good” of society – she finds the unconscious body of Camellia (Rosy McEwen). Nursing her back to health, she hopes that this mysterious stranger will help them out of their situation and allow them to enter the utopia of the Citadel. But when neighbour Jonas (Eddie Marsan) appears with his own nefarious plans, Vesper must find a way to reverse apocalypse.

Vesper gives a tangible sense of a lived-in world, with endless wonderful set design and consistently stunning cinematography from DoP Feliksas Abrukauskas. This is a broken-down planet, full of decay and destruction – the dark greens of rot and the black of death consistently encroach. But there’s also a strange sense of beauty, a hint of what has been lost. It gives rise to – amongst the bleakness – a feeling of hope, a kernel of an idea that change for the better can be possible.

The performances are generally great. Chapman is believably commanding in the lead, with a toughness that belies her tender years. But she still embodies the uncertainty of a teenager, and there’s a touching vulnerability to her performance. McEwen is also excellent, managing to elicit an air of mystery without being contrived. Marsan is also great, as always, playing the villain but with a commendable sense of moral ambiguity and bringing the whole film a sense of gravitas.

Vesper is certainly indebted to the history of sci-fi and genre films, and many of the beats and visuals of the movie echo cinema past. But Buožytė and Samper still manage to put a very unique stamp on proceedings to create a consistently thought-provoking and immersive affair.

Festival success seems assured, especially on the genre-festival circuit, where it will undoubtedly be hot property. Theatrical and VoD success also seems likely (though the film really does benefit from being seen on a big screen), and indeed, it has already been sold to a number of territories, including the UK (Signature Entertainment) and North America (IFC Films).

Vesper was produced by Lithuania’s Natrix Natrix and France’s Rumble Fish Productions, in co-production with Belgium’s 10.80 Films and France’s EV.L Prod. It was made with the participation of OCS, Wallimage, VOO and BeTV. Its international sales are handled by London-based Anton.

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