This film caught me off guard. Knowing that I was a bit late to the party after it dropped on Netflix a good while back, I also knew nothing about the plot until I sat down to watch it tonight. I’m actually glad! “I Am Jonas”, aka as “Jonas”, is a new and thrilling entry to the Queer Film oeuvre from the brilliant Christophe Charrier. This mystery balances between two timelines in Jonas’ life, bouncing back and forth with a smoothness that is actually a bit jarring and aids the intrigue. We know that there is something in Jonas’ past that haunts him – but we don’t know what. By the end, the horror unfolds, leaving us with an odd feeling – we don’t get a resolution. But even though this is not your “happy-go-lucky” queer film, “I Am Jonas” is certainly worth watching!
Synopsis of “I Am Jonas”
Jonas (Nicolas Bauwens), a young boy is riding in the car with his father and playing his Gameboy. While his dad pulls over to fill up with petrol and pay, something in the darkness beyond haunts Jonas. A young man suddenly appears trying to beg for help, yet suddenly he’s gone and his dad is trying to comfort a crying Jonas. Suddenly, an older Jonas (Félix aritaud) is sitting in the back of car while a female up front is having a casual conversation about an incident at the Boys bar. Oops – turns out that she’s a policewoman and Jonas was involved in a brawl at the bar. But Jonas simple doesn’t car; as he later tells the other officer who informs him that he’s no longer welcome at Boys. When Jonas finally leaves and gets home, he gets the cold shoulder from his boyfriend and forced to sleep on the sofa. The next morning he’s kicked out, again almost not even caring; emotionless.
Suddenly we’re back to young Jonas on his first day of ninth grade, a rather shy and reserved boy who’s picked on by his peers for being gay (or at least presumed gay). Suddenly Nathan (Tommy-Lee Baïk) enters the room and their eyes meet – it’s a match! We skip back to older Jonas while he’s at work at the hospital, just passing the time while also looking for his next hookup on Grindr. After a random hookup, we’re back in 1997 with young Jonas. Nathan has weaselled his way to sitting beside Jonas in class, later faking a fainting spell so they can skip out. While having a smoke in the gym while hiding, they bond and before long Nathan leans over and they share a romantic kiss. Alas, back again we go to older Jonas as he’s just wasting time laying on the beach watching a young guy. After trying to go to his folks to find them away and he’s locked out, he ends up at the same hotel where the guy from the beach works. But first we go back to young Jonas and Nathan, where Nathan ends up causing a class bully to get sick after giving him a laced cigarette. The young boys continue to bond.
But back again to older Jonas who, after setting off the fire alarm and water sprinkler in his room by smoking, is invited out by this young hotel worker, Leonard (Ilian Bergala), his girlfriend and his mates. After a night of partying, the older Jonas wakes up in a strangers bed. Walking out to the pool, we see Leonard playing Jonas’ Gameboy – but then we see Nathan swimming and climbing out of the same pool to great young Jonas and both of their mothers! It’s the same house, and we soon find out that it was Nathan’s bedroom Jonas slept in – and Nathan’s Gameboy that he later gives to Jonas. Unfortunately, just as the two timelines seem to be coming together, they mysterious traumatic incident of Jonas’ childhood rears its ugly head.
After a date at the movies, Nathan gets a voicemail that his mother is going into labour! But rather than head to the hospital, they decided to try and sneak in to check out Boys (the gay bar from earlier). They aren’t allowed in, but a man hanging around outside offers to sneak them into another bar. Suddenly, life is upended – they aren’t headed to a bar…. Jonas is able to slip away from the unfolding nightmare only to watch as an unconscious Nathan is kidnapped by a stranger. As if pouring salt onto a wound, Leonard is Nathan’s brother – and Jonas finally confesses the truth about that night to Nathan’s mother. Eighteen years later, and still no sign or word from Nathan. Nathan’s mother (Aure Atika) asks Jonas to leave, though oddly Leonard and Jonas finally start to connect. They detour and head into the local amusement park as the film fades away.
To be honest, there is very little to speak ill of about “I Am Jonas.” It is brilliantly written. The casting is superb with phenomenal acting from everyone. The cinematography is simply stunning and beautiful. Even though the film consists of a plot full of intrigue and secrets, the feelings we get while watching the film are most certainly planned by writer/director Christophe Charrier.
So why did I only give a 0.5 star for my personal opinion the film? Because I got lost for a good bit. Seriously! Because there is such a huge difference between the older Jonas and young Jonas, and the fact that they are played by two different actors (who don’t quite look related…), without prior knowledge that the film is told as a back and forth between the past and present, it’s easy to think that we’re seeing two different people’s stories. Even though we clearly hear Jonas’ name used in both timelines, it’s only after some of the smaller subtle pieces start falling into place that it really “clicks”. Lastly, while we learn of Jonas’ trauma back in high school, afterwards there’s no actual resolution of the other key plot – what happened to Nathan. Are these negative things about the film? Nope! But they were thoughts and reactions I had, and thus why I couldn’t quite give “I Am Jonas” a full 5.0 star rating (even though I’ve a feeling it was written to evoke such feelings!)
Wow! “I Am Jonas” is a stunning film. Right away, it’s clear that there will be plenty of suspense and intrigue while young Jonas is terrified by something in the shadows, something coming after him – except there’s nothing there by his fears. But even in that moment, the way Christophe Charrier frames the shots of this opening scene is exquisite: he slowly zooms in on a terrified Jonas who’s just locked the door and is backing to the other side of the car. Without warning, young man is beating no the passenger window, asking “Why?” and “Open up. He’s coming” – then nothing. There’s no one there. So why is Jonas frightened? It’s simply brilliant!
The rest of the film is a cinematographer’s dream. Balancing vivid colours via light and the backdrop scenery, it’s actually breathtaking and almost deceiving. The flashing red and blue of the Boys bar’s sign provides a vivid background while the older Jonas sits in the back of a car – the back of a police car. Because the story is told in two different timelines, the first being Jonas in 9th grade in 1997 and the later being in 2015 while he’s in his thirties, the plot jumps back and forth. But the transitions are so smooth that you almost don’t even realise we’ve jumped. In one transition, older Jonas is looking into a mirror wall at a fancy apartment and suddenly it’s actually young Jonas looking into the mirror in his room.
The last point to touch on about “I Am Jonas” is the casting – it’s incredible! While I cannot attest to having seen anything by any of our leads before, it’s clear that this cast is full of talent. Félix Maritaud is dark, secretive and quite reserved. He’s a troublesome boy, getting into fights and such. But through moments like during his work at the hospital, we get a glimpse into a sweeter caring man. Nicolas Bauwens is that quite, kinda and very cute young Jonas! Bauwens’ acting is entirely beleivable – almostt a naive innocence brightened up by his budding relationship with Nathan. Even though Maritaud and Bauwens don’t even look like relatives, they’re both incredible actors. Even Nathan, portrayed by Tommy-Lee Baïk, is enjoyable to watch as he pulls young Jonas out of his quiet shell. But the hidden talent is from Aure Atika – wow! Because of the two timelines, we get to see two different sides of Atika’s incredible talent; she’s utterly believable!
I came to “I Am Jonas” without knowing anything about the plot, the mystery, or even that it’s a rather dark film. After watching, I was stunned – it was simply incredible! Hauntingly and a bit chaotic at first, but as all of the pieces fall into place, the traumatic backstory of Nathan starts to shine through and bring it all together. Perhaps it’s the optimist in me, but I wanted resolution to the plot; I didn’t get an answer, but “I Am Jonas” is worth watching because it’s a brilliantly written and composed film. Give it a go – you’ll enjoy it!