Julia 17 (2018). 96 minutes. Directed by Andreea Boyer. Featuring Andreea Boyer, Wolfgang Flatz, and Ulli Lommel.
How do you cope when it feels as though your life is a never-ending cycle of one tragedy after another? That’s the question that the title character of Julia 17—played by the film’s writer, director, and star Andreea Boyer—struggles with in the film. Julia 17 is Boyer’s feature length directorial debut.
The very first scene shows Julia being raped by her father, and as the film continues, we see the emotional impact this mental and physical abuse has on Julia. There are several additional subplots, but ultimately, the film depicts Julia’s journey as she tries to find herself amidst the traumas she’s suffered.
Numerous elements of the film were very well-done. The transitions between scenes were smooth and the different camera angles added visual appeal and made the film interesting to watch. That being said, the film would have been stronger if it had a more cohesive narrative.
I admire Boyer’s ambition in trying to tackle so many sensitive topics. These things are not easy to talk about, and creating an entire film that explores topics such as sexual abuse and suicide in depth must certainly be emotionally draining. That being said, it felt like the film was trying to do too many things at once. In the beginning of the film, we watch as Julia deals with the emotional trauma caused by her father’s sexual abuse. Then, the film shifts and Julia begins her journey to find the mother that abandoned her. Towards the end of the film, yet another subplot is introduced and Julia has to become a prostitute to support herself while she is trying to become a big star in Hollywood.
All of these plots, if developed, had the potential to become a feature-length film in and of themselves. However, by trying to tell all of these stories at once, the filmmaker wasn’t able to give each topic the time and attention they deserve. In attempting to say so much, the film lost out on vital character development that would have added a stronger sense of identification with the characters’ journeys for audiences.
One of the lessons that more experienced directors learn is that the emotional impact of a scene tends to be stronger if the scene is not drawn out. Boyer will, no doubt, learn this as she continues her promising career as a filmmaker, but at this point, there were a number of scenes that went on for too long and lost their resonance as a result. In one of the scenes, for example, Julia’s brother is rolling around in a wheelchair with sad music in the background and an internal dialogue of “Julia” repeating over and over again in his head. I understand the purpose of this scene—and I’m glad that we see her brother feeling remorse for treating Julia poorly earlier in the film—but a shorter scene would have been more effective in getting the audience to feel that remorse.
While many scenes seemed unnecessarily drawn out, there were other moments in the film in which we get a glimpse of the filmmaker that Boyer has the potential to become as she continues to hone her craft over time. One scene that I really enjoyed comes when Julia reunites with her mother after being abandoned and confronts her. In response, Julia’s mother unleashes a cleaning frenzy that turns into interpretive dance. We see Julia’s mother grasping her hair, rolling around on the floor, and climbing up a ladder, all to the tune of the music playing in the background. Her emotional outburst was compelling and really captured the character’s feelings in this difficult time.
Another benefit of being a more experienced director is that you learn to really value character development. Boyer will eventually finetune that aspect of her storytelling. For now, some of the characters could have been better drawn in order to connect with audiences. One example of this is Julia’s “Hacker boyfriend.” He plays a large role in the film by taking Julia on a journey to find the mother that abandoned her, yet we never find out anything about him—not even his name. I understand that the primary focus of the film is Julia, but without any sort of development for the secondary characters, they seemed more like tropes instead of actual people. As Boyer continues her filmmaking career, I trust that she will spend more time on having each character be well developed in her film.
I’m glad that Boyer chose to tackle such sensitive topics, and I believe that as her filmmaking evolves, she will be able to narrow the scope of her story and craft characters that are more clearly drawn out. She is a talented filmmaker who over time will continue to finetune her style and will develop a powerful voice. I look forward to engaging with her future projects.