'Jonah' ('Jonas'): Rio de Janeiro Review

Courtesy of Swen Films

Fresh and energetic but implausible.

Lo Politi’s feature debut about a guy, a girl and a big blue whale took the Special Jury Prize at Rio.

A kidnap romance set against the visually spectacular backdrop of Brazil’s Sao Paolo at carnival time, Jonah mixes up street life and surrealism into an engaging whole. Though dramatically and psychologically it’s sometimes as shaky as the massive carnival whale inside which much of the action takes place, the project is largely redeemed by its flair, energy and busy visuals. Its daring mix of genres with a nicely surreal twist was rewarded at Rio with the Special Jury Prize, which could generate further interest and see Jonah swallowed up by further festivals on the Latin American circuit.
At 20, Jonas (Jesuita Barbosa) is a little lost in life and has a wide-eyed, slightly haunted air. As the son of the maid Janice (Ana Cecilia Costa) in the family of Branca (Laura Neiva, a powerful screen presence) where Janice works, he now hangs out with his younger half-brother Jander (Luam Marques), whilst helping out with preparations for carnival and delivers dope for Dandao (Criolo), who taunts him about being the only white boy in the neighborhood.

When Branca returns to the area, Jonas is instantly smitten. Drunk after being rejected by her at the carnival, he follows to her parent's home and is horrified to see her about to have sex with Dandao: following a scuffle, Dandao is shot dead. The story is wobbliest through this section — Dandao dies too neatly, and Jonas is able too easily to drug, tie up and kidnap the oddly passive Branca. He takes her to the inside of the huge, blue, illuminated carnival whale he’s been working on, where much of the rest of the action will take place. (A wonderful aerial shot of the whale being hauled down the highway towards the carnival neatly summarizes the film’s quirky energy.)

The viewer has to take too much for granted: when Jander asks Branca about how she handles restroom issues after a Biblical three days inside a bathroom-less whale, she refuses to answer, but we want to know, too.

A wide-ranging sequence during Jonas’ drunken binge is very elegantly and evocatively done, and indeed the vibrantly-colored first part of Jonah is lovely to watch, with Politi and DP Alexandre Ermel busily wringing maximum interest from every single shot and sequence. The camera smoothly, sometimes showily. follows Jonas around, explores the surreal surroundings of a carnival workshop, or rises swiftly in a crane shot to take in the Sao Paolo skyline. Indeed, sometimes it feels rushed: there’s a big money shot at the movie’s end which could easily have been drawn out for further impact.

Jonah’s second part is less interesting visually as the film ramps up into a less-than-original, thriller-ish plotline involving a ransom (comically, Jonas delegates much of the dirty work to the hard-headed younger Jander, with Marques always appealing but never cutesy) and a little bit of Stockholm syndrome. It focuses more on events than on psychology; for example a little remorse might have made Jonas a more sympathetic character and his movie a richer viewing experience.

The Biblical tale on which all this is based is often read as a pre-allegory about the death and resurrection of Jesus, and it would be possible to put together some sort of metaphorical reading here about, say, Jonas’s escape from a society to which he doesn’t belong into a safe haven where his dreams might start to come true. But the film finally doesn’t seem to have been built on any such solid structure of ideas, and the viewer gets the impression that once it had been decided to make a film about a carnival whale, then it was only a matter of time before the protagonist would be called Jonas.

Production company: Mastershot Producoes

Cast: Jesuita Barbosa, Laura Neiva, Luam Marques, Chay Suede, Ana Cecilia Costa, Criolo

Director: Lo Politi

Screenwriters: Lo Politi, Elcio Vercosa Filho

Producers: Murray Lipnik, Deborah Amodio

Executive producer: Marcelo Torres

Director of photography: Alexandre Ermel

Production designer: Valdy Lopes Jn

Costume designer: Cassio Brasil

Editor: Gustavo Giani

Composer: Zezinho Mutarelli

Sales: Swen Filmes