Review: Jessica Forever
by Fabien Lemercier
- TORONTO 2018: Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel attempt to push boundaries in a first feature film that borders on science fiction and realism
A young man throws himself about in a detached house in a deserted neighbourhood, smashing through a bay window, a GIGN-style task force, armed to the teeth, hurtles through the countryside at full speed in a row of 4x4s, picking up the individual in question and quickly leaving the scene, just before a swarm of drones touches down. With this introduction, Jessica Forever – the first feature film by Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel, winners of the Short Film Golden Bear award at the 2014 Berlinale with Tant qu’il nous reste des fusils à pompe – screening as the closing film of the Platform competition at the 43rd Toronto Film Festival, sets people’s expectations high and clearly demonstrates its intention to do away with the classic French auteur cinema conventions. A direction that fits into a clear trend among the rising generation of French filmmakers (see: Raw [+see also:
interview: Julia Ducournau
film profile], Revenge [+see also:
interview: Coralie Fargeat
film profile],The Wild Boys [+see also:
interview: Bertrand Mandico
film profile], The Night Eats the World [+see also:
film profile], and Ava [+see also:
interview: Léa Mysius
film profile] to a certain extent), who seek to take risks, blur the various genre film signifiers and overcome the norms, in search of new scents, that are perhaps more modern, international and likely to appeal to younger audiences. But obviously, this sort of transgression comes with its fair share of uncertainty and needs to be executed with great rigour, which is not always easy.
"We are living in a time when many orphans populate the Earth." Lost, they are hunted to death with extreme and uncontrollable violence by the special forces. But "a young woman collects and protects them: Jessica." A voice-over immediately plunges us into a sci-fi universe (which by all appearances seems contemporary) and into the heart of a curious family of about ten boys (played by Sebastian Urzendowsky, Lukas Ionesco, Paul Hamy, Eddy Suiveng and Franck Falise) united by a mysterious quasi-Christly female figure (Aomi Muyock) whom they adore with boundless adulation and obey at all costs. On the menu: very advanced military training (with a plentiful stock of weapons), harmonious brotherly love and what looks like a summer camp, well-hidden in nature. The group's mission: to adopt and channel their monstrous and savage side, and to take everything they can without fear of inevitable death. But, of course, external and internal threats certainly won’t make it easy...
Resolutely delusional, Jessica Forever is a real cinematographic alien, a curious entity that mixes together fantasy (ghosts, robotic trackers), lightning actions (shooting, parachuting, a clandestine set-up in a luxury villa in the heart of an island) and a languid tempo (group discussions, contact with other young people, a secret idyll, etc.). Playing on image texture up to the point of hyperrealism, the film is particularly amusing when taken to the second degree, but its serious side leaves us a little sceptical about its actual substantive convictions (justification of the armed struggle against totalitarianism?), just like its rhythm, which occasionally drags a little (some secondary characters deserved to be more developed). But overall, its audacity, which will obviously leave no viewer feeling indifferent and which will undoubtedly have strong detractors and fervent followers, makes it a potentially cult title, which for a first feature, is already somewhat of a success.
(Translated from French)
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