Jessica’s boys are very pretty. Soft with sad faces, dopey when they walk, quiet when they talk. They’re strong, well built from endless exercise. They sit around and pose like they’re in an I-D editorial. Harbouring a lifetime of regret, they want to rebuild their lives. They’re also completely devoid of character. They mope and mope and mope, their glum faces challenging you to walk out the cinema. The only reason I stayed was to watch them all die.
Feeling like a fashion shoot for an athleisure brand that accidentally gained sentience after reading a Young Adult novel, Jessica Forever is nonsensical trash. Barely engaging in any narrative or developing any characters or even establishing a certain type of mood, it feels like a feature-length troll. Still, even if the whole thing is a protracted joke (which I’m sure its not), the piddling results remain the same. You want to see sexy men in a good French movie? Watch Beau Travail.
As orphans, these boys are outcasts from society (for some reason) who stalk around small villages (for some reason) and kill for food and pleasure (for some reason). The only person who takes any chance on them is Jessica (Aomi Muyock), as boring and blank-faced as the best of them. She rescues them from killer drones (yes, killer drones) and gives them a place to live. When their previous home is attacked, they escape to a remote island, where they are given the chance to rebuild again.
A regular five or ten-minute stretch in Jessica Forever goes like this: voiceover about not being able to move on, a shot of all the boys sitting in one place, a completely unconnected shot of a boy crying or staring into space, another group shot of all the boys sitting in another place, a school photo. The only (unintended?) effect the film creates is one of total bemusement. We never learn why these orphans are outcasts or why drones are trying to kill them, and when two boys suddenly walk around a supermarket without any problem, one can’t understand how you are supposed to spot an orphan, or why they need to go into hiding in the first place. There are no rules. Chaos reigns.
There could’ve been some interesting ways to go with the material, such as exploring how the only matriarch in the group has power over vulnerable men. The way they might compete for her attention. The devastating effects of solitude and the yearning for human connection. The inability to get over the past. Directors Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel don’t really want to explore any of that, however, and instead deploy endless empty platitudes and poses, scored by euro-trance and grungy post-rock. One of the boys does develop a relationship with a girl he meets on the beach, but this really feels like an excuse for the directors to throw in some artfully shot cunnilingus.
I’ll say this: it’s rare that a film can be cringeworthy and boring at the same time. Usually the very element of cringe makes a film worth watching, yet here it simply rubs salt into the wound. They should’ve just taken some pictures and pitched them to a magazine. This is a poor excuse for a film.
The 69th Berlin Film Festival runs February 7, 2019 – February 17, 2019. Visit the festival’s official website for more info.