1970s >> 1978 >> no-885-may-1978

Film Review: ‘Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000’

After eight 

Alain Tanner’s Jonah who will be 25 in the year 2000 centres around eight people, all of whose names begin with the letters “Ma”—presumably a reference to May 1968, which in another sense is that the film is really about.

Max is a Trotskyist, and for him everything since 1968 has been an anti-climax. He is brought back into political activity when he finds out about a scheme by some bankers to force some farmers off their land and later sell it at a huge profit. Max persuades the farmers not to sell, and thereby becomes friends with two of them, Marguerite and Marcel.

Although the film is not clear about this, it seems that this act of resistance to the profiteering businessmen is successful. But attempts by the other characters to behave differently—however slightly—from the way that society expects them to all come to nothing. Marie works at a check-out in a supermarket: she undercharges customers who can’t afford to pay for all their purchases, but gets sent to prison. Marco is a history teacher and tries, with the help of some of the other characters, to teach his students about crises and inflation — and is sacked for his pains. Mathieu organizes his own school for the farmers’ children, until he is eventually stopped by Marguerite, who tells him that she employs him to shift manure not to teach her children (she already pays taxes for that purpose, she says). The only character who achieves some kind of contentment is Madeleine who deceives herself in religious mysticism.

So at one level the film shows the pointlessness of individual tinkerings with the social set-up. But what it doesn’t do, at least not directly, is to indicate any positive solution. True, there are a few references to class struggle (but also quotes from Rousseau about man being “everywhere in chains”). The background of inflation is emphasized at the beginning and the end of the film, while Marcel is concerned with ecology, especially the preservation of rare species of animals. But the pervading influence of 1968 suggests that this is what is held up as a model to follow. In fact, the events of May of that year were in sense revolutionary, just an instance of popular working-class action on the industrial front, aimed at wage increases.

Mathilde is pregnant with the Jonah of the film’s title. The film contains some well observed scenes and in places is very funny but a major weakness is that nothing is said to point the way towards marking the year 2000 (or—let’s be optimistic—well before then) one in which the frustrated dreams of its characters are no longer necessary.

Paul Bennett

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