Jesus, an errant teenager from Santiago de Chile, finds himself in such an unpardonable situation that he can’t but — wait for it — turn to his father in the small-scale drama Jesus, the second fiction feature from director Fernando Guzzoni. This smudgy and increasingly dark chronicle casts fearless rising star Nicolas Duran (The Stranger) as the reckless son and Chilean veteran actor Alejandro Goic — from Pablo Larrain’s movies and Guzzoni’s fiction debut, Dog Flesh — as the stoic, often absent father, with the focus shifting gradually from the titular character’s drunken adolescent antics to the father’s thankless task of deciding what’s best for his only son.
Because the film features naturalistic, credibly lived-in performances and is shot in a semi-documentary style, the few moments of symbolism feel very heavy handed (the pregnant-with-meaning title doesn’t help, since the audience will expect religious overtones from the get-go). This Toronto Discovery and San Sebastian competition title might also face an uphill battle as a theatrical item at home, where the story’s stylistic and story similarities to Alex Anwandter’s You’ll Never Be Alone, which premiered at Berlin and was inspired by the same true story, might give audiences a sense of déjà-vu.
A bit heavy-handed but effective.
A handsome kid with musical keys tattooed on his neck and a gaze that keeps toggling between absent and insolent, Jesus (Duran) is frequently left to his own devices because his widower father, Hector (Goic), is often absent for days on end for work. The adolescent seems to have an iffy handle on money but at least seems to enjoy being part of an all-boys group that performs at K-pop-fueled dance-offs. Whether it’s the actual dancing or the teenage public’s screaming adulation that he craves, however, is never quite clear because Jesus isn’t much of a talker and when he does speak, he doesn’t tend to actually say all that much.
With his buddies, he’s also into less innocent forms of entertainment, including watching snuff videos in which narcos kill people; inhaling forbidden substances or engaging in rough nookie with both male and female friends or acquaintances. In fact, Jesus’ sex scenes are pretty explicit but this actually serves a purpose, as the studiedly careless way in which Guzzoni has choreographed and shot them helps suggest something about the character’s more than casual attitude towards intimacy.
Like a spate of recent films from Latin America — such as Los Hongos and Los Nadie from Colombia, I Promise You Anarchy from Mexico and the aforementioned You’ll Never Be Alone from Chile — Jesus chronicles the lives of Spanish-speaking millennials who seem to mostly float around unmoored in their largely eventless lives. Sex is often a matter of personal gratification more than an expression of love (or even mutual desire) and the youngsters’ moral compasses frequently need readjustment or are complete absent. What is clear is that these (fictional) adolescents will only learn from mistakes they’ll have made themselves but that their uncaring attitude and lack of boundaries often result in their mistakes crossing the line from simple blunder into criminal offense.
(Spoilers ahead in the next paragraphs.) Jesus follows exactly this pattern when the titular protagonist and some of his buddies end up sneaking into a park at night, after having been thrown out of a club for bad behavior. They end up randomly pestering a young man they find there and a combination of alcohol, boredom and toxic machismo makes things spiral out of control, leaving the defenseless stranger unconscious.
Like in You’ll Never Be Alone, the film’s second half sees an increased prominence of a father figure and here the question becomes how Hector will deal with the knowledge of his son’s actions once he’s confessed. The religious symbolism is too on-the-nose from here on, with the son murmuring “Forgive me, Father”; a guilt-wracked Jesus washing himself in a freezing brook in the woods, as if to cleanse himself from his sins, and Hector having to choose between his instinct to protect his offspring and his sense of what’s right.
Often shown in dark, flat and agitated closeups, Goic and Duran are both compelling performers. Through their interactions — and, often, the lack thereof — a subtler picture of responsibility emerges in which Jesus certainly plays the lead but there are also roles for the frequently absent single father and the indifferent society of which they are a part.
Production companies: JBA Production, Rampante Films, Unafilm, Graal Films, Burning Blue
Cast: Nicolas Duran, Alejandro Goic, Sebastian Ayala, Esteban Gonzalez, Constanza Moreno, Gaston Salgado
Writer-Director: Fernando Guzzoni
Producers: Giancarlo Nasi, Jacques Bidou, Marianne Dumouli, Titus Kreyenberg, Konstantina Stavrianou
Director of photography: Barbara Alvarez
Production designer: Rodrigo Bazeas
Costume designer: Francisa Roman
Editor: Andrea Chignoli
Sales: Premium Films
No rating, 86 minutes