I’m going to blunt here and just straight out say that most likely everyone who sees this French art-house film, Jessica Forever, will hate it. I liked it, but I’m definitely in the minority. Out of those who see it, maybe 99% will either hate it or just stop watching before the 10-minute mark. If you don’t believe me just go look at its audience score on IMDB. A sad 4.6! Also, the member reviews on Shudder say violently negative things.
The criticisms aren’t completely uncalled for. The film is slow, confusing, and slightly tedious (actually a lot tedious). The dialogue feels as if the writers shortened everything to just the bare minimum and left the characters to insensibly talk in scenes that never end. Then there’s the issue of the plot itself, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Despite all this, I really like the movie. I think it’s because of the whole first half that was much more interesting than the second and third acts. The major flaw here is that Jessica Forever expects too much of its audience. Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel, who wrote and directed the film together, assume that their viewers are willing to dig through the many layers and interpret the film on their own.
More mystery than story
Jessica Forever is about a woman named Jessica (Aomi Muyock) and her makeshift family that consists of violent teenage boys that she’s taken in. They’re comparable to wild animals tamed by her affection, rehabilitated into peaceful warriors. It’s a dystopian film set in the distant future where orphans are outlawed and self-trained as soldiers, but the reason behind it is never explained. Outside of their isolation, a single shootout and the graphic image of the word “orphan” branded on someone’s chest, the film rarely displays their struggles and never offers up any real explanation as to why they’re struggling at all.
Why are orphans outlawed? How come they’re hunted down by killer drones? Why do they live like animals in the woods? How would the police even know they’re orphans in the first place? Who knows.
The strangest part is how relatively normal the rest of the world is. Malls are open, schools are open, cities are intact and people live normally. No one from the outside world seems to care about outlawed orphans running loose. It makes the danger feel insignificant, like a fantasyland they’ve imagined for themselves. Without any information outside of what’s directly happening on the screen, the story deflates way before it ever gets the chance to properly develop. It’s really about loneliness. If the word “lonely” came to life and became a movie, this would be it.
A potential relationship wasted
Despite having her name in the title, Jessica is not the star. Her role is more of a background presence guiding her adoptees. The driving force of the story is a boy named Kevin (Eddy Suiveng) who is taken in by Jessica and her group in the beginning. It’s his introduction that starts the film and his (spoiler alert) death that turns everything around.
When Kevin joins the group, he struggles to control his violent impulses before learning how to fit in with the others. He forms an intimate bond with fellow orphan Julian (Lukas Ionesco). The way they interact implies that they’re closer than friends or brothers, they seem to find a new type of comfort within each other. I loved this part of the movie, it got me infested in Kevin and his relationship with Julian and the other boys. It could have held up the film singlehandedly but then, 30 minutes in, Kevin dies and Julian becomes depressed.
That’s the death of the film for me. After that, it transitions into a new phase with less interesting characters and less interesting storylines. It’s a thinker movie, don’t watch it if you want to be entertained, but it’s truly a piece of art. Every shot is just beautiful.(2.5 / 5)
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