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‘Vesper’, not currently available to stream but running on a limited release in theaters, is an idiosyncratic but noteworthy dystopia. It is also several years late to the ‘Hunger Games’ reactive entertainment that took up much of the 2010s. Yes, ‘Vesper’ is a full-tilt dystopia, but its less Katniss and more Mad Max. In the world of ‘Vesper,’ it’s not so much that society has not been corrupted as much its been utterly destroyed. What remains is the home and the life of the main character, Vesper, a young girl who spends her days taking care of her dying father.
The story follows our titular character of Vesper as she navigates a world where the ruling class live in Citadels, north and south, all the while the townsfolk make do by farming genetically engineered crops created by those far-away elites. Along the way, many interesting characters and ideas are explored. Vesper is a smart young girl, and we follow her tunneling through the countryside. It feels more like Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’ than of any other contemporary dystopia.
A fan of George Miller’s ‘Fury Road,’ particularly one that found ‘5000 Years of Longing’ less than charming, will find little to like in ‘Vesper.’ The film plays deeply outside of American sensibilities. Both the story and its surroundings are organic. While the film has its moments of unscrupulous violence, it is is very grounded overall. This is largely because its lead actor, Raffiella Chapman, a fourteen-year-old girl, carries the film with the kind of gravitas almost always reserved for old veterans of the craft.
It’s an achievement to the creatives for bringing these ideas to life, and its a boon to the finished work that these ideas are brimming throughout its runtime. One of Veper’s many talents is that she can grow biomes like those bred in the citadel. These huge bacteria are more majestic than horrific, and created imaginatively by the film’s makers. The iconography of the Citadel and the moral fabric of those who live underneath it is something only seen in the best dystopias of our age.
The creators of ‘Vesper’ describe the story as a fairy tale. It’s villain, Jonas (Eddie Marsan) is the big bad wolf of Vesper’s homestead. His way of life, while filled with temperance and pragmatism, is deeply cynical and base, bordering on pure patriarchal lust. At their Q&A last week in Los Angeles, the creators described it as an “ode to biodiversity.” The initial story for this world was a different conceit entirely, according to its directors, but shifted to the story of ‘Vesper’ when the other story they conceived ended dying in development. Beyond the story, the effects, editing and storyboarding are all several grades above nearly every other film this year.
Nearly all of the effects were practical to keep the film’s budget down. They were creating, working, filming, all in simpatico. The composer, Frenchman Dan Levy, created a gorgeous neo-classical score intended to serve as a leitmotif-laden blanket to cover the film’s aural body. The score was partially completed before filming so that they could create shots that perfectly match up with the score, rather than working the music in reverse.‘
Vesper’ isn’t without its faults. The ending becomes a little obtuse, even while being mostly predictable, and the villain is often cruel to an unnecessary degree. He modulates from being a rough-and-tumble master of his own domain to a complete sociopath as the movie progresses. Not everything connects perfectly, and some scenes take their time. It’s still a worthy addition to the canon, and its a perfect template for further inspiration. It’s gorgeous, inventive and character-based. Not a blockbuster by any means, but absolutely a viable reason to keep the indie theaters up and running.