Jessica Forever projects twilight warmth and utilises hyperrealism with a niche sonic aesthetic to disconnect from a fragile filmed reality. Directors Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel dehumanise authority and create a dystopia to indoctrinate that “criminality comes from a lack of love”.
What made you choose the name Jessica?
C & J: Jessica has imposed itself directly, instinctively. We didn’t think for a second. We needed a simple name that represents our world, our generation and at the same time, a name that can be impactful, like a war cry, a slogan. Jessica has that double strength.
What we like about this name is that it disturbs the Queen-Mother image of the Jessica. It breaks the sacred side of her character and it gives her something closer, more familiar and popular.
What instigated the focus on orphans? Are the orphans a metaphor for something wider?
C & J: In Jessica Forever, the orphans represent human beings who have grown alone, outside the society, outside the rules of the world. From early in their childhood, they’ve been excluded and became violent monsters. The idea of the film is to tell that criminality comes from a lack of love. The orphans never had love. Whether the love of a mother or the love of a nation. They never felt included, wanted. Among other things, this rejection drives them to violence. This violence is a logic shift when you are that sidelined. If the society rejects you permanently, if people teach you all your life that you’re not at home, you’re dangerous, you don’t deserve anything or you’re useless… After a moment, you will destroy your world because you won’t recognise yourself in it. You don’t want to love and protect it. Hate is growing inside you, like a tumour, a cancer. The program of Jessica is to cure these boys of this disease in giving them some love and a special space. To erase their hatred and their anger.
The film almost feels like different short stories or plots weaved together. A series of events loosely related. How did you decide on the curation of the film?
C & J: It was really important for us to tell the story of a group. That’s why there is no real main character. The film was built around different trajectories mixed together. All these trajectories tell the story of a whole. It’s like knitting a galaxy of emotions. We wanted the narrative to be like a relay of energy and sensations. That’s what we’ve wanted since the beginning. We had the feeling that this story couldn’t only be told by the characters, actions and dialogues but also by the form of the film (voices-over, shots, music, sound effects…). Cinema tools enable us to tell the emotion of the group and highlight feelings, their common history.
We worked for a long time on the script to find the right balance between all the characters. Of course, some trajectories take more space than others. But what mattered to us was that each character counts as a piece of a big puzzle. And even if some of the boys don’t talk much, we can’t forget them.
What made you choose Camille to narrate?
C & J: Camille becomes narrator only in the last part of the film (just before the high school part). She takes charge of the story when she discovers Jessica and the group. Her character has a special place because she’s not a member of the group. Because she is external, her words are precious, they’re those of a privileged observer who understood their struggle.
We also wanted the film to take the form of a legend, with a strong narrative that outlines archetypal characters (leader, monsters, newcomer, lover, ghost, etc). In the same way, Camille is their memory, she keeps their legend alive.
Can you tell me a bit about the relationship between Kevin and Julien? What is this detail meant to relay?
C & J: At the beginning of the film, Kevin enters the group. Julien takes him under his wing. Through Kevin and Julien’s relationship, we discover this strange family, its daily life, it’s rituals, the way they function. The two boys become close. Between them, they have a very strong friendship, maybe more. Orphans are time bombs. Their feelings are experienced like explosions. As they grew up outside society, they have no prejudices, no filter. They don’t know censorship, societal taboos. They live every day as if it was their last one. When Kevin disappears, the whole group is affected but Julien will suffer the consequences the most. It will wipe out slowly. Kevin is the fort domino that falls and drags everyone else with him.
Michael seems the most socially interested. What instigated this plotline?
C & J: Michael's character was built in opposition to Lucas's. Michael is the least monstrous boy in the family, the most “normal”. The one that seems to us the most mature and reasonable. He’s still slightly involved with the world. That’s why he chooses to go elsewhere, to meet new people and new places. He is a curious boy. You could say he still has confidence in the world. Lucas, with whom he spends a lot of time, is the opposite. He is the one who plunged the most into horror. He doesn’t know how to be in the world anymore. The two friends, though very different, are inseparable, always there for each other.
Michael is also a way of clarifying that the group is not a sect and Jessica, a manipulator. Orphans are free to leave and discover outside by themselves. Michael discovers in Camille, a new Jessica. In other words, he discovers a new reason to be in the world. A new reason to believe he has the right to stay alive, he deserves forgiveness and a second chance.
Sebastian Urzendowsky was perfect for playing Michael. He has exactly that mix of sweetness, kindness and maturity we were looking for.
What is the meaning of Camille’s dance?
C & J: It’s a pure act of love. At this point in the film, Michael has just opened his heart to Camille. He has just given something he had never given to anyone before: the truth about his history. In return, Camille gives him this dance. It’s a gift for someone who never had anything. A way of telling him that she doesn’t blame him, she doesn’t judge him. The feelings they feel are stronger. This dance seemed more beautiful and powerful than any words. With this dance, a new world opens for Michael.
What made you choose to represent the authorities as drones, genderless and anonymous?
C & J: Dehumanising authority makes it possible to better understand how it works. Representing repression by drones allow us to create a strong image of a power. A system who doesn’t want to heal, understand or question itself but simply to obey orders, condemn and destroy. Also, this object has a special place in our contemporary age. Drones are both entertainment objects (teleguided races, camera option…) but also objects of control and power (surveillance, war, dropping bombs).
In the film, there is no pilot. We chose to make Jessica Forever’s drones fully autonomous by bringing their behaviour closer to an animal. This was particularly inspired by the reactions of wasps or starling flights. In the end, it makes them invincible and threatening because they are more agile and instinctive.
Can you tell me about the significance of the recurring riff throughout the film, originally played on a bass and then piano?
C & J: It’s a nursery rhyme that accompanies the orphans and it’s called Song for Magic. We have a special affection for this kind of musical tune because they are very simple and pure.
Magic is a beginner on guitar and plays awkwardly. The fact that the music isn’t perfectly executed is an important detail for us. It’s not a fault, on the contrary we feel it’s even more beautiful like this, when you see someone trying to learn and concentrate to do it well. It highlights a fragility due to their story. A fragility that defines them and makes them curious and touching. Magic isn’t a professional guitarist but he’s a boy with a child’s soul awakening. It’s a way for us to dig into a monster’s image and move it into something more complex and realistic.
Song for Magic appears twice in the film: at the very beginning when the family is presented in its outline, and at the end, waiting and saying goodbye. Listening to it, we experience a feeling of nostalgia, rest, sweetness and sadness. Feelings closed to those felt by the characters throughout the film.
When this music comes back at the end, Magic introduces it with his guitar and Leopard, another member of the group, takes it over with piano. It’s a way of concluding the story by recalling the purity and simplicity of their original dream of peace, unity and love. But also, to underline with the piano, the tragic and inevitable aspect of this simple quest. The loop is closing.
The music, to me, felt essential in illustrating the niche tone of the film. How did you settle on this sonic aesthetic?
C & J: In Jessica Forever, but also in the most of our short films, the music is considered like a character of the movie. The music allows us to move forward the narrative of the film. That’s why it has such an important place. It tells as much as a gesture, a shot or a dialogue. She’s there to be heard, seen and lived. It’s not decorative or an accompaniment.
In our films, the characters are often reserved. A huge shell surrounds them. The music as well as the voice-over allows to break this shell and penetrate the characters. It’s like planting a thermometer inside their bodies to feel their emotions, look through their eyes and get to their rhythm.
Music accompanies us at all stages of creation. It’s even there before a single idea is written. She often guides our writing, sculpts the characters and their feelings. We would like our films to be received as we listen to music in concert. Sensitively, instinctively and viscerally. With the body more than with the brain.
Also, we love a lot of different musical styles which makes the Jessica Forever soundtrack very eclectic. It ranges from sounds discovered on Soundcloud, to more classic hits like Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary (Purcell), or more contemporary like Jonathan Leandoer. These choices tell the story of our artistic approach, which draw its sources from different mediums in search of sensations and emotions.
There is a repetitive shift from a warm colour palette, reminiscent of sunset, to a cold glow. What is the significance of this?
C & J: These are the colours of our world, the colours we grew up with. Those of our screens, video games, MTV clips, commercials…
With this film, we wanted to work a very digital image. Deep colours, strong contrast, very defined images with a lot of sharpness. It’s hyperrealist aesthetics that allow us to experience a disconnection with the reality we’re filming. It’s like you see too much the details of the world and it’s starting to become false. Our perception is not able to store so much information. We liked to look for the limit of what we could see, it was a balancing act for each shot.
What do you hope people will take away from the film?
C & J: If they keep with them at least one thing, that’s good. Receiving something through an artistic work is a precious emotion.
We can’t take away something, if we’re not able to give. By that we mean, people need to give a little of themselves, welcome the film and make a pact with him. To receive, it’s important to be open, to be able to leave at home our little comfort, our reading grids and our audience habits. So maybe at this moment, we could take away something with us.
We built Jessica Forever with a deep desire. It’s a film we’ve had in ourselves for a long time. We put a lot of ourselves into it: our hopes, beliefs and feelings, which have gone through us and haunted us. If somebody is able to catch a piece of the Jessica and return back home with it, even the smallest, it’s wonderful.
words KATE BISHOP
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