(Original title: Jonas)
Hiding away in the corners of the sprawling Netflix catalogue is a hidden gem of LGBTQ cinema, ‘I Am Jonas’ written and directed by Christophe Charrier, this is a film brimming with originality, emotion and intrigue. That has Sadly fallen under the radar, since its Netflix release, despite its in house production label. Its discovery only assured by those of us who trawl the depths of streaming services looking for hidden LGBTQ movies. But believe me, this is a rare straight to streaming delight. It’s narrative rich in texture, while its performances shine with beauty.
Opening in a gas station car park in 1997, fifteen-year-old Jonas (Nicolas Bauwens) sits quietly playing his Gameboy; his dad in the store. The catchy earworm Tetris tune of ‘Korobeiniki’ cutting through the fresh night air. However, as the battery on the Gameboy fades, Jonas finds his attention drifting to the darkest corners of the gas station lot; a boy suddenly appearing at his window before being dragged into the darkness. The trauma of his vision leading him to scream out in fear, as a trickle of blood runs from his nose.
We then jump forward to the present day, with Jonas (Félix Maritaud) now a lonely and troubled man. His relationships as battered and worn as his soul, as he floats through adult life. Getting into fights at the local gay club (Boys) while living each day in the shadow of his past. His only security the redundant Gameboy he holds close and his career as a hospital porter. The mystery of his descent into darkness slowly revealed through flashbacks, as his past slowly converges with his present.
Part coming of age drama and part mystery thriller ‘I am Jonas’ wraps the viewer in a slow burn journey of self-realisation and acceptance. The first throws of love between two teenage boys interfacing with a life where the present is held hostage by the past. The escape routes for Jonas closed by the ghosts of his own actions and inability to change them. Of course, this may lead some to accuse ‘I Am Jonas’ of once again playing to age-old cliches of queer cinema. In other words, surrounding gay men with emotional turmoil and pain, their lives a confusing mix of random one night stands and personal crisis.
However, Christophe Charrier cleverly transcends this potential accusation with a tender and thoughtful exploration of human connection. Thus placing the power of love, belonging, and freedom, alongside the grief of separation and loss; the capacity of first love to set people free cut against its ability to trap the individual in a vice-like grip. With the result placing Jonas within a void between attachment and trauma. His inner peace and reconciliation, laying within his ability to move beyond his teenage experiences. And it here where ‘I Am Jonas’ strikes a similar cord to early work of Xavier Dolan. Not only wrapping the audience in themes of masculinity, sexuality and self-identity but embedding these in a vibrant colour palette and character-focused cinematography.
The film’s quieter moments bristle with sexual discovery, desire, emotion and unspoken truth. The result of which paints a beautiful and haunting picture of love, memory, and loss. The films visual beauty, therefore, leaving us wondering why it has slipped under the radar. Especially at a time when cinema doors have remained closed and new films limited. The answer to this remains unclear. But one thing is for sure, ‘I Am Jonas’ more than deserves to find its audience. With Charrier bathing us in a quiet, confident and assured portrait of internal and external forgiveness.
Director: Christophe Charrier