Mother Vera (2024) Visions du Reel 2024

April 12th, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dirs: Cécile Embleton & Alys Tomlinson | UK, 2024, 91′

An ascetic life of prayer and devotion is not for everyone. But Mother Vera (birth name Olga) has chosen the path and shares her turbulent past and uncertain future in this sepia-tinted monochrome meditation that follows the ex-druggie nun through her first year in a monastery that starts in a snowbound Belarusian forest and culminates in sun-baked flatlands of the French Camargue.

After contracting HIV from her partner Oleg, Olga’s life of parties and secular pleasures came to an end and was replaced by daily prayer, devotion and animal husbandry in the remote monastery. We first meet Mother Vera prone on the stone floor of the religious establishment where she will live a life of asceticism, shoeing horses, bell ringing.

Wearing a black headdress and floor length robes, 

The monastery is also home to ex convicts – in the eyes of the Lord Christians both saints and sinners are all equal – and the nuns seem to exert a certain power over the men, who regard them with respect, the fact that ‘good and evil’ coexist in the world and in each of us – is transformative, one tempering the other, and providing the film with its spiritual message that good can conquer bad and this is acutely felt during the Easter celebrations when incense is burnt to purify the air and welcome the rebirth of spring.

Vera then goes back to her family in the wooded countryside  – two brothers and a mother along with a bevy of farm animals. Two donkeys and a sheep and later some horses and she has a particular affinity with horses – one amazing scene sees her riding through a snowy landscape on a white horse. They provide the healing that Vera needs along with close love of her mother as they go through the anxiety of her drug addition. And she repents our her sins in leading others into threat world. Love perseveres

Revealed through spellbinding visual language echoing the rigid discipline of monastic life, we enter the enclosed, shadowy spaces of a convent outside Minsk. Sound and silence submerge us in the rhythm of the community. After twenty years of monastic service and faced with a life-changing decision, Vera must confront her troubled past to find the freedom she desires.


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