“Zeria” is a surreal, stylish film that is visually captivating and extraordinarily unique while also delivering a powerful message.
Zeria is a mixed-media release that tells the story of the last man on Earth narrating his life story against the backdrop of a ruined Earth. He hopes he will meet his Grandson, the first human that has never known Earth.
This is not a typical science fiction film. There are no explosions, gunfights, space flights, or massive alien invasions destroying prominent world city landmarks in showy CGI.
Right. Still here? Good.
Zeria is a powerful and sometimes unsettling film by Belgium director Harry Clevin. It offers no explanation of how or why the planet is in the state it is in. It starts with clouds of matter and the Narrator beginning his story.
The cityscapes are desolate, overgrown, and silent, apart from Gaspard, who is introduced with one of the most striking masks — devoid of anything apart from the eyes, which somehow seem to convey so much emotion it draws you in.
Its premise is simple: there has been an exodus to space, and the planet is now empty.
But this just acts as a backdrop for Gaspard’s life story to be told.
And it is told in an often-brutal manner using masks, puppetry, or extensive miniatures set against cold, sterile color or in ethereal dream sequences, which are more like nightmares as he recounts his life from birth to the present moment.
Gaspard is approaching his end and wants to write/tell his life to his Grandson, whom he has never met. This letter forms the center of the narration and is delivered without emotion or anger or pain, or pity. He tells it as honestly as he can, almost as a casual observer of his own existence.
Once the story starts, it is straight into his upbringing and the often-abusive treatment he received as a child from his father, who it seems this letter is for as much as it is for his Grandson.
Watching each sequence where this occurs, it is delivered in an uncompromising manner, and the faceless masks make it harder to watch.
Some nightmarish images spring forth from his damaged subconscious, including one disturbing image which could have come from David Cronenberg in the early phase of his career.
He doesn’t know if the Grandson is aware of his existence as the Exodus from Earth starts before he is born, and the elderly are being left behind because they are perceived to be of little use in the new beginning.
None of this is really explained, and it is left to you to piece that together as it is almost secondary to the narrator’s story.
That is what is the key here; that somehow, he has managed to be a better person despite the upbringing he suffered at the hands of his Father. That is not to say that he has escaped unscathed, but this is assumed.
There is a brisk one-hour runtime that somehow manages to squeeze a lot into it without it seeming to drag or be padded out for the sake of it. You get the feeling that everything that was presented was all they wanted to show.
It’s as strong a film as I have ever watched because scenes are presented unflinchingly, requiring you to really give it your full attention.
It’s a film that gets under your skin with a powerful story and a resonant message not to be afraid of life, to embrace the unknowns, and not to live in someone else’s image.
It won’t be for everyone, but you should seek this out because it is a rewarding film presented in a style you don’t usually see.