Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000: Wounded Idealists Chopping Vegetables

04/15/2010 10:23 AM |

jonasaff.jpg

Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976) is probably the best-known film by the 80-year-old Swiss director Alain Tanner, the subject of an Anthology Film Archives mini-retrospective commencing today, Tax Day. Appropriate, then, that Jonah, screening Saturday and Wednesday evenings, begins with a bit of sticker shock: patrons file in and out of a convenience store, balking at the price of cigarettes but nonetheless shelling out for them. “Inflation” is the clerk’s only price-hike explanation.

The radicals who populate Jonah are down but not out. They all have been forced to some degree to accept the world as it is—and give up their fight to remake it—but they still chip away at the order of things with a youthful recalcitrance, be it by routinely undercharging in a supermarket checkout lane or turning public-school history lessons into lively discourses on historical materialism.

In one of these improbably engaging classroom scenes, the teacher, Marco (Jacques Denis), demonstrates his view of history with an enormous blood sausage. Tanner and collaborator John Berger seem to take a cue from this sausage as well in structuring their story. They keep circling back, coil-like, to introduce new characters (and their individual political perspectives), gradually collecting them at a farm on the outskirts of Geneva where they reflect on their faded idealism while chopping extraordinary amounts of vegetables.

The film’s title refers to a child conceived in this agrarian community, which disbands almost as soon as its utopian possibilities begin to emerge. Life on the farm offers, however fleetingly, a kind of time outside of time: With 1968 receding ever further into the past, Jonah’s parents and their friends consider the future, mulling over what it means to bring a child into the world. These deep anxieties are given very serious consideration, but the film’s lapses into outright goofiness—mostly in quick black-and-white fantasy sequences—are frequent.

Far from characteristic, Jonah even seems to be a woolly outlier when considered alongside Tanner’s other mid-career works. The Middle of the World (1974), about a willfully affair-derailed election bid, and Messidor (1979), a sort of more stately Pierrot le fou in which two teenage girls zigzag across the Swiss countryside with a glovebox-purloined pistol, are both more elusive films with a chillier intellectual buzz about them. In those two movies and in In the White City (1983), starring Bruno Ganz as a sailor on extended leave in Lisbon, Tanner seems more interested in the constrained landscapes of Switzerland and its pre-eurozone neighbors than the people therein. While Jonah might not feel quite as tonally controlled as some of these other films in the welcome Anthology series, it’s more complete: funnier, more generous, and harder to shake.