Jonathas’ Forest (A Floresta de Jonathas): Rio Film Festival Review

A Floresta de Jonathas H 2012
Family friction meets cruel nature in the Amazon

The haunting Brazilian drama tells the story of a young man’s perilous journey into the rainforest.

The eternal tensions between fathers and sons, tradition and modernity, innocence and experience lie at the heart of this small but absorbing drama set deep inside Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Making his assured feature debut, the writer-director Sérgio Andrade has composed an ambivalent love letter to his native region that simmers with unease about its growing profile as an exotic eco-tourist destination.

Jonathas’ Forest had its world premiere at the Rio Film Festival last week. Solemn and meditative, with the leisurely pacing of a vintage arthouse movie, it may prove a tough sell to foreign distributors. But it definitely deserves further festival exposure, with potential theatrical interest stirred by its gorgeous jungle locations, sumptuously shot on 35mm film.

Jonathas (Begê Muniz) and Juliano (Francisco Mendez) are brothers who work together on their father’s roadside stall, selling fruit and refreshments to passing tourists. Jonathas is a dutiful and deferential son, Juliano a playboy who prefers drinking and partying to work. Family friction reaches boiling point at their tumbledown cottage when dad forbids the two boys from embarking on a planned rainforest camping trip with friends. But Juliano defiantly leaves anyway, and Jonathas sneaks out to follow him.

On the journey, Jonathas becomes sweetly captivated by the pretty young Ukrainian-American tourist Milly (Viktoryia Vinyarska). Eager to impress her with his insider knowledge, his solo digression into the jungle soon proves to be nightmarish mistake. After getting badly lost, he succumbs to hunger and hallucination, fearing for his life. As the hours turn into days, a search party sets out to try and locate him.

Jonathas’ Forest is a small, low-budget story that touches on some big themes. Andrade does not fall into the trap of romanticizing the Amazon and its native traditions, instead exploring a 21st century wilderness where indigenous kids ride skateboards and carry smartphones, and where globalised commerce co-exists with local superstitions. The rainforest itself is the real star, an ever-present and increasingly ominous force in the drama. As slow-moving cameras pan lovingly across its sultry vistas, the soundtrack hisses with the constant squirm and slither of jungle life. Sound design is understated but effective.

In the film’s latter half, the tone tilts subtly towards magic realism with an edge of uncanny horror, recalling classic lost-in-the-outback mysteries such as Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout or Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. The ending feels loaded with symbolic significance, even if it lacks a satisfying dramatic punch. But while Jonathas’ Forest makes few concessions to mainstream thriller dynamics, it still offers a haunting and atmospheric journey into the unknown.

Venue: Rio Film Festival screening, October 6

Production companies: Rio Taruma Filmes, VT Quatro Filmes, Figa Films

Producers: Warly Bentes Jr., Sandro Fiorin, Sérgio Andrade, Sidney Medina

Cast: Begê Muniz, Francisco Mendes, Viktoryia Vinyarska, Chico Diaz, Ítalo Castro

Director: Sérgio Andrade

Writer: Sérgio Andrade

Cinematography: Yure Cesar

Editor: Fabio Baldo

Music: Jan Dos Anjos, Begê Muniz

Sales agent: Figa Films

Rating TBC, 98 minutes