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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 12.08.10] Canada movie review news drama

Year: 2010
Director: Maxime Giroux
Writers: Maxime Giroux, Alexandre Laferrière
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 8 out of 10

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, likely for a long time to come: Quebec is a breeding ground for great film talent and it’s sad, a national cultural tragedy, that English speaking Canada, never mind the rest of the world, doesn’t often get to take in all that the province has to offer. It was years before filmmakers like Denys Arcand and Denis Villeneuve made a mark outside of the province and I’m starting to wonder what other great talents lay hidden there, especially when I see a film as powerful as Maxime Giroux’s Jo for Jonathan (Jo pour Jonathan).

Jo is the younger of two brothers and he worships his brother Thomas. Jo perceives him as having everything he wants: a job, a sweet car, a hot girlfriend, small wants for a teenager. What Jo doesn’t realize is that Thomas isn’t happy with what he has and wants more for his brother. When Jo fails his driver’s test he feels like he just failed some right of passage and that the beginning of his life has been stalled. He lies to his family, steals his brother’s car for the night and loses a street race that he runs from because he doesn’t have the money to pay up. This apparently naïve action sets off a series of events that tailspin Jo’s already tortured (as he sees it) life into an abyss.

Though only his second full length feature, Giroux shows the depth and control of story of a master film maker. Co-written with regular collaborator Alexandre Laferrière (the two also co-wrote Giroux’s first film Demain), the script of Jo for Jonathan is sublimely vacant of useless dialogue and teen speak. There are exchanges but Jo and his brother seem to have, as many siblings do, a familiar short hand and their interaction is often wordless and limited to a look or a whisper. When Thomas does tell his brother that the life he leads (work, his car and a girlfriend he’s always concerned will leave him) isn’t what Jo should strive for, he’s smart and should have higher aspirations, it’s clear that this much exposition is uncommon and therefore, important.

Giroux’s film lives as much in the action as it does in the empty spaces and charged silences. Everything has a purpose and the fall of Jo from good kid to delinquent is heart breaking as is the growing relationship with his brother. Jo feels responsible for the events that unfold and when he’s faced with his brother’s request, Jo accepts, understanding full well that this will change him forever.

I love the way Giroux’s film unfolds with purpose. There’s no frivolity and every scene with the exception of one, a close up on a water bottle which feels excessive in the otherwise minimalist landscape of the film, is essential to the story. It’s no surprise Raphaël Lacaille took home the best actor prize at Whistler for his controlled, nuanced performance which carries much of the film. He and Jean-Sébastien Courchesne as Thomas carry the heart of the story and their interactions give the film the emotional punch which makes Jo for Jonathan unforgettable.

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