Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Piotr J. Lewandowski's "Jonathan" - Ties That Bind

What if you find out that your dying father were homosexual, would you up and go?

In a small rural German town, 18-year-old Jonathan (Jannis Niewohnermanages to keep the family farm going by the sweat of his brow, where everyday is a struggle. He also takes care of his suicidal father Burghardt (Andre Hennicke) who's in the terminal stage of his metastatic skin cancer. What's more difficult for the handsome lad is his father's pessimistic demeanor to throw the towel in. Morbidity sometimes affects a person's decision making

Jonathan doesn't even think twice about his onerous duties. What he couldn't comprehend is the inexplicable hostility and animosity between his aunt Martha (Barbara Auer) and his sick father. Jonathan has stopped trying to understand this as he's mostly too exhausted at the end of the day. 

The bucolic setting would have provided a halcyon escape from the internal strife all around. But emotions run high between siblings who refuse to speak with each other, even when one is at the throes of death. Pride indeed has a way of eating through our rational thinking.

When cheerful nurse Anka (Julia Koschitz) arrives, Jonathan is afforded extra time to indulge in his artistic inclination (making beautiful lanterns, etc.) He used to dream of pursuing a college education in Berlin and leave their hand-to-mouth existence in the country. But with his father's condition, he knew it would have to take a back seat.

So he toils the wheat fields away. 

One day, a stranger knocks on their door; Ron (Thomas Sarbacher) was his aunt's ex-boyfriend, but Ron has come for Burghardt. His arrival would open dehiscent emotional wounds, but his father seemed genuinely happy. He has shaved and cleaned up, and the long forgotten smile has returned. Before long, Jonathan is able to put the pieces together, and realize that the stranger was his father's lover. Were Jonathan's existence and everything that transpired before this revelation all a lie?

The issues in the story are universal: honesty, family and love. Germany may be one of the world's most uninhibited countries, but the norms and tolerance for sexual taboos and practices are nevertheless the same. Within the confines of a close-knit family, honesty is still a valid criteria for acceptance or rejection.

Director Piotr J. Lewandowski's cinematic canvas is gorgeous. The setting is idyllic, a piece of paradise, playing out its contrast against the palpable high tension evident in the opening scene. 

The storytelling artifice seems obvious. The director takes advantage of beauty to underline the story's grisly elements and the dark emotional turmoil experienced by the characters . In fact our protagonist is a proverbial "god" - Jonathan (Niewohner) is too beautiful for words that it's hard to take your eyes off him when he's on screen. He is tall, physically fit, with blond hair and blue eyes - and is absolutely devoted to his sick father. What more can you ask for in a guy? 

Scenes move languidly but they somehow temper a narrative movement that one would expect to conclude with an explosive denouement. There are sexual moments far removed from the blatant vulgarity of coupling. They delineate passion and define joy and loving. In these tender moments, we realize that Jonathan will see through the tempests of his young life.

"Jonathan" was QCinema section's best feature (and one of the 4 Pink Films) in its rather disappointing "Rainbow QC" lineup. It also featured other gay-interest flicks - Andrew Ahn's "Spa Night" (US/Korea), Sara Jordero's "Kiki" (US) and Nontawat Numbenchapol's quasi-documentary "BKKY" (Thailand). 

Jannis Niewohner, 24,  stands 6'1".

#jonathan   #jannisniewohner  #QCinema   #pinkfilm

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