GoCritic! Interview: Mona Keil • Director of Juice
“I had this idea about a repulsive and attractive thing”
by Nikola Jovic
- The young German animator and director discusses the meaning and origin of her latest short film Juice, her passion for stop-motion and the nature of ugliness.
Mona Keil is a German filmmaker and animator currently touring the festival circuit with her stop-motion short Juice (2022), which tells the wordless story of other-worldly meaty creatures who grow increasingly tired of pesky red bugs which are annoying yet key to their survival. Juice is Mona’s graduate thesis film and, so far, it has screened in Tallin’s Black Nights, the Annecy International Animated Film Festival and the Encounters International Film Festival. We seized the opportunity to sit down and talk with Mona in Ljubljana, where her film was screening within the European Young Talents section of the 19th Animateka Festival.
Cineuropa: During yesterday’s Q&A session, you briefly touched upon the inherent nature of ugliness and how we like to force labels onto ugly things. When did you become aware of this?
Mona Keil: I was really interested in why things are ugly to us. On the one hand, there's a biological side to it, if something is poisonous or rotten; it’s logical. But when we feel repulsed by strangers coming around a corner, for no reason, or if you smell a person’s scent and you think it's strange, etc., it’s not logical. I don’t mean to undermine those instincts, they mean something. It's just strange. I was thinking about why we’re like this and how we can get over it.
Both this latest film and your previous short were made using stop-motion. What does stop-motion offer that other mediums and techniques don’t, in your opinion?
I like the real uncanniness of it, and the way things move, but I also like its tactile nature. It always leaves me with a desire to touch and to feel what you’re watching, to interact more. I like to create enticing images which provoke a physical reaction. What comes first is the feeling, and I want to create things that can facilitate that. Which is why I love the process of finding the right material for the creatures and connecting what works in pictures to the narrative.
During the post-screening Q&A, you mentioned that you previsualized this film before shooting it. What were some of the challenges you faced during the film shoot and the preparation process?
The film was shot using a camera rig, which is a big cage, and it gives you three planes on which to move the camera. I had to gauge how the camera would move in 3D and then put it onto the rig, so that when I made a picture the camera would know where it is spatially. That's why I had to create it in 3D. After determining these movements, I then had to redo them using the camera. The first thing I had was the movement of the camera and nothing else; it was just the world of the film and the movement.
And the film was mostly shot in one take…
Yeah, the first half of the film is all one take. So when there's juice, there's also camera movement. But once the juice is gone, we start to make cuts. The camera stops because there's no more juice. So at those moments, the camera is static, and then things get moving again towards the end, once there’s juice again.
Did your story start with a visual idea, or did you invent a visual metaphor for the story you wanted to tell? What inspires you more generally?
I had this idea about a repulsive and attractive thing, which makes us feel strange; like human fluids, things which first appear really ugly, at some point, become kind of attractive. I tried to find pictures to match this feeling, but I realized while talking about it with other people that things that are interesting and attractive to me are repulsive to other people. So it wasn't easy. Because, at first, the images I wanted to focus on were of people…
So the initial story was about human characters?
Yeah, and they had small heads and large ears, and they had big, big bellies and small legs. So I started with images of them caressing each other, spitting into each other’s mouths, and more tactile sensations. And then I came across this MRI video of a person's mouth as they’re yodelling and singing really high notes. It was at that point that I decided: okay, they don’t need limbs, and they don't need ears or facial features either. I didn’t need any of those features in order to feel for them.
Are you planning to explore the pretty side of ugliness any further?
Mona: I don’t know. I explored it a lot in this film already and although I’m still interested in all of that, I’m working on something different now. It’s still in the early stages of development, so I’m not really able to say much about it.
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