interview: caroline poggi and jonathan vinel on jessica forever

“In an apocalyptic world, a Lara Croft-like mother-figure takes care of a group of outlaw orphan boys who are on the run from murderous drones.”

Directors Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel met in university in Paris where they separately worked on short films but always supported and advised each other.
In 2014 their first collaboration came out, the short film Tant qu’il nous reste des fusils à pompe. The film was selected in Berlinale’s prestigious short program where it even won the Golden Bear. This gave them the opportunity to create a first feature-length film: Jessica Forever which premiered in Berlinale 2019.

[Caroline] “Working together, we have the same kind of characters, locations, diverse facts in mind. We take every step together, from writing to editing. The preparation is maybe even more intense than the shooting of the film. We both need to know exactly where we need to place the camera and how we need to direct the actors. Preparing well allows us to shoot fast and also provides us from fighting in front of the team [laughs].”

[RMA] Jessica Forever was received well in the film media. Hollywood Reporter described the film as somewhere between art-house and grindhouse, what do you think of that description?

[Jonathan] I think it’s the best description for this film! We do not consider ourselves merely ‘cinephiles’. We are influenced by a lot of other stuff like the Internet and video games. Jessica Forever is somewhere in between contemporary art and cinema. I think the fact that people feel the film is lost between genres is another way to show that some films don’t belong anywhere. It was inspired by lots of different styles.

[RMA] How did u come up with this super interesting idea of Jessica Forever?

[Jonathan] One of the first things that we wanted to talk about was people being rejected by society because they have committed a horrible crime. We asked ourselves; is there a possibility of redemption? Jessica Forever was a way for us to racheter [ed: redeem] the people who committed horrible crimes and try to help them find a place. And eventually, even to help them find beauty.

[Jonathan] It also came from our desire to talk about a recomposed family. People feeling isolated and who are looking to build a new, heartfelt family in a new world with their own rules.
Together with Jessica, the characters are able to reconnect with something ‘pure’. She symbolizes light and hope.
The two words that are the most important in the film are ‘orphan’ and ‘monster’. We aimed at telling a simple story in a fantastical contemporary universe taking images of our ‘own’ world: the suburb, the beach, the forest, and the muscular man. We aimed at placing those images in a legend, a more in-temporal and universal place. Our influences come from a lot of different places. We like cinema obviously, but we also love music, video games, Internet, Tumblr, Instagram. We don’t write with cinematographic words, and maybe that’s why this movie is a hybrid between contemporary cinema and many other forms, images and types of screens that we grew up with.

[RMA] We also screen Yann Gonzalez’s Knife + Heart (2018) this year, another film that toys with genres. And in 2018, we programmed Bertrand Mandico’s Les Garçons Sauvages (2017), another film with the flair of contemporary art. Maybe it is a bit early to conclude, but could there be a new kind of movement in France that likes to mix ‘genre’ with interdisciplinary art forms?

[Caroline] We are well connected with Bertrand and Yann. I don’t know how to explain; maybe we are close to a sort of belief in a precise universe with characters that are ‘pure’. We share a love for form and shape and we want to try, to experiment. I think it is where we are all connected, in a cinema that is not naturalist.

[Jonathan] Nowadays, it is way more tolerated to toy with genre cinema. It used to be underappreciated because it was not noble and sacred. It was something for the beauf [ed: people having bad taste]. Now it has become cool, so it is about fashion and movement. Films like ours are now tolerated and are even well received.

[RMA] How did you decide to use the drones? For me, they are deeply connected to modern war.

[Jonathan] Drones have two very different logics. They are an object of war and terror but also of leisure and fun. We were looking for an object that could incarnate the enemy in a universal way. They have a similar meaning as the birds in The Birds (1963) by Hitchcock. What scares people is that these objects are not rational. You can’t project anything, you cannot identify with them, so they easily become the ‘enemy’.

[Caroline] Drones are completely melting into our world. You cannot see them, like the Hitchcock birds they are invisible, a surveillance camera.

We tried to create a drone in a contemporary manner: small and deathly, between an animal and a machine, able to place in a heroic-fantasy. If you look closer, the drones have spikes, they have a sort of medieval armor and they fly like insects, not like actual drones.

Jessica Forever will be distributed in Dutch cinemas in fall 2019.

Interview by: Charlotte Van Zanten