I Am Jonas begins with a father and son driving into a gas station. The street is deserted, car headlights dulled by an eerie haze. The son, Jonas, is a typical adolescent: grouchy, eyes glued to a Gameboy. He is left alone in the car, his father paying for gas. The Gameboy dies. Jonas shifts impatiently. Something catches his eye. His breath quickens. The tension mounts as he awaits his father’s return. This moment of mundanity, interspersed with Pierre Baboin’s suggestive camerawork, evokes slasher horror vibes.
Suddenly, 18 years have passed. Jonas sits in the back of police car. His face is busted, eyebrows betraying confused apathy. Of course the fight wasn’t his fault. He returns home, only to discover his boyfriend has chucked him out. Jonas cheats. A lot.
Jonas is a familiar character introduced within a predictable framework, but screenwriter and director Christophe Charrier’s movie depicts two narrative threads. Half the film follows Jonas navigating life as a wonderfully naïve individual, while the other reveals a man hellbent on self-destruction. The two narratives wax and wean before merging together for a shattering climax. Despite its surface appearance, this is not a character centric film. Rather it is a meditation on the virulent power of memory.
Young Jonas (Nicolas Bauwens), is on cusp of adulthood and sexual discovery. With the new school year, there comes a mysterious new student, Nathan (Tommy-Lee Baïs), his aura reeking confidence and bad-boy rebellion. A scar on his face suggests an alluring past. Jonas is smitten and a romance between the two blossoms.
Jonas (Félix Maritaud) as a thirty-something year-old is the antithesis of all he once was. The near constant smirk of his youth is replaced by a frustrated frown. While a despondent victim to bullies in high school, his later life is characterized by violent aggression.
As we watch the two contrasting narratives play out it is easy to lament the film’s predictability. But stay with it. The clichés are mere set ups that allow Charrier to destroy our expectations. As the plot thickens, we are left guessing. Gradually the narratives merge, fitting together like pieces of a jigsaw you didn’t even realise were missing. The acting is second to none. Every gesture, be it a smirk, laugh, or tear, is delivered with enough force to make the skin tingle. Dialogue is almost beside the point.
This is a slow burner that demonstrates the beauty of cinema. It coaxes you into a universe before shredding your emotions raw. What starts out as a film that feels predictable transpires into something that defies storytelling convention, with an ending that may well leave some viewers disappointed.
By Boris Abrams
I Am Jonas/Jonas is streaming on Netflix now. For more details or to watch the film head to www.netflix.com/iamjonas.