Jonas (2011)

(no real spoilers)

Jonas is an unusual and unique movie that is hard to categorize. It is a German movie, first of all (which I have been trying to catch up with a little bit more), but it only features one real actor in a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. Christian Ulmen is put into a real situation, acting as a student in a school, surrounded by real students and teachers and seeing what happens. To me, it mostly worked because of the fascination with his character and how much you can learn about school from it. Still, the problem is that the movie never really lets you know how much is orchestrated and how much is spontaneous. Maybe it doesn’t matter, but there is an uncanny feeling that remains. Still, Ulmen’s acting is really amazing, especially since he does not turn it into a caricature (apart from the silly love story which is not really working).

There were some moments that really brought out what school is like, that made me shudder in disgust at the pathetic things teachers tell students and how unable many teachers are to actually deal with students. One teacher instructs the students after a bad test, telling them how all of this is important for their future lives, how they really have to work real hard if they want to achieve anything. You can be sure that this is something students here every day at some point but Jonas (Ulmen) shows off the effect this actually has on them, by asking the teacher if they aren’t under enough pressure already and that this is not really helpful. The teacher becomes insecure, certainly also by the presence of the camera, and he doesn’t really know what to say. Part of it must be that he probably has never questioned that approach before, it seems natural to him to threaten students with their future and to put them under pressure, never having thought about the emotional consequences this has.

In a conversation with the principal, Ulmen does something similar. The principal considers himself a laid-back, cool principal who understands his students. Ulmen plays a student who has failed school twice already and for whom this is his last chance. So the principal gives him a talk and tells him what consequences he has to face if he fails, but Jonas keeps asking him to give him some hope and motivation instead, to try to believe that there is a possibility that he will succeed. The principal has such a hard time doing that, not because he is a bad person, but again because he has been trained to only talk about bad consequences, to apply pressure, to not give hope. It is an incredible telling scene that is about more than embarrassing the principal or going for a joke. It’s one of those moments that would have made this movie a really tough look on our school system, if there had been more like it. But it still is a very interesting movie, with many illuminating moments.