I Am Jonas ****
Starring: Félix Maritaud, Nicolas Bauwens, Tommy Lee Baïk, Ilian Bergala
Director: Christophe Charrier
How many times have we seen the narrative of a person dealing with a trauma from decades before, with the story of their present intertwined with the story of their past? From Mysterious Skin to We Need To Talk About Kevin, this narrative dev ice is hardly original, but as the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Or in the case of I Am Jonas, the new French LGBT drama to arrive on Netflix , if you’re going to do it, be brilliant at it.
Jonas (Maritaud) is a mess; cheating on his boyfriend, hooking up with random guys on Grindr, tattooing his own knuckles, homeless. In his past there is some unspoken trauma, which has led to his inability to make any real or lasting connection with anyone as an adult. As a fifteen year old boy (Bauwens) he meets the enigmatic bad boy Nathan (Baïk) with whom he falls desperately in love and the pair become inseparable, despite the derision from bullies at school. But with Nathan taking all sorts of risks, it’s only a matter of time before his recklessness catches up with him. And in the present day, Jonas is drawn to the much younger Leonard (Bergala), beginning to watch him as he goes about his daily life.
The two storylines are adeptly woven together, with it only becoming clear in the final act how the storylines are linked. The young Jonas and the old Jonas behave like completely different people. The young Jonas is sweet, innocent and naïve, whereas the older Jonas is a rough, troubled and even violent outcast and throughout the film, you know that the story is taking us to the point where that purity of youth was lost and jaded forever.
Félix Maritaud is currently the face of French Queer Cinema. Storming the international stage with his outstanding performance in 120 BPM, he is soon due to appear in cinemas in Sauvage and then in the Cannes critical darling, Knife + Heart. His brooding and masculine performance here makes for a stark departure from the camp vivaciousness of his debut role and it gives the film a menacing pulse that makes the storyline set in the present indelibly compelling, even though the majority of the action occurs in the past. And though we are watching the untainted boyhood Jonas, Maritaud imbues the adult Jonas with such damaged volatility that we doubt his reliability as our hero.
The film is barely 80 minutes long and with such a compact run-time, the film is tightly wound and concise. It does much to build up tension – the opening scene is particularly stressful – but doesn’t forget to give its characters time to breathe. As such, the cast is minimal, with peripheral characters like the bully and Nathan’s mother getting some serious screen-time too. This is a story about the loss of innocence, but unlike most other films on this theme, the children here are not blameless. Yes, Nathan is the catalyst for the change in Jonas, but it’s the choice that the latter makes that compiles the crux of this film’s simple yet effective narrative.
Originally released in the UK under the title 'Boys', the new title has overcome the problem that i was difficult to market, with Boys already the title of a 2014 movie from The Netherlands. In France, the film was released under the title of Jonas, but with a 2016 Brazilian movie of the same name (and the Jonas Brothers’ TV series too), it was also changed. Type “Boys” into IMDB or Google and literally 1000s of other hits come up first. This is a fantastic movie and I'm overjoyed that its new IMDB-friendly title and arrival on Netflix will mean a new audience get to see it. Slick, dark and compelling, this was one of the best LGBT DVD releases of 2018, but is FINALLY getting an international audience.
OUT NOW ON NETFLIX.