Director: Jöns Jönsson
Screenwriter: Jöns Jönsson
Starring: Moritz von Treuenfels, Thomas Schubert
Axiom, the latest film from upcoming Swedish director Jöns Jönsson, follows Julius, an eloquent young museum attendant, who invites his colleagues on a sailing trip. It is a simple story, but one that may not play out as you think.
The movie opens with Julius (Moritz von Treuenfels) working during an art exhibit, quietly informing his new colleague Erik (Thomas Schubert) of what to do. He then quickly moves on to two of his co-workers as they enjoy their lunch break, and together they share a lengthy conversation about their lives, their work, etc. It is a pretty basic and realistic conversation, but Jönsson pens it with distinction and excellently directs the acting, drawing us in, investing us in each of these people and every word they are saying.
Next, we are transported to Julius and his friends making their way to his family’s sailing boat. It is at this point that things begin to get suspicious as Julius regales his group of friends with a story that Erik had told him the previous day, only he pretends that the story is of his own experience. As the trip goes on, we notice that a lot of what Julius is saying is not adding up – he claims he told everyone to bring life jackets but all of his group claim he did not, he is certain that the building at the port is a member’s club rather than a shop, but it is in fact a shop. These all seem like human errors, yet we can’t help but to feel our trust in Julius begin to waver. These are nice, subtle touches from Jönsson that cause suspicion but not too much alarm.
“Human errors” and “little white lies” begin to add up, and it becomes clear that Julius is a pathological liar. The way in which Jönsson slowly reveals this through his writing and directing can only be described as stunning. Using dialogue to slowly build upon things that Julius had said earlier, changing the details slightly to raise suspicion but not total awareness, or having Julius say one thing earlier in the movie and then something totally different later… it shows an impressive understanding of both his screenplay and his character.
Perhaps better still, the dialogue is excellent. Similar to the opening scene, much of the dialogue is written very realistically, yet it has such bounce and energy to it that it keeps us engaged. The subtext to every line is impressive, building more and more as the film goes on and Julius’ lies become ever more clear, making us question just what is and is not the truth.
Jönsson also directs impeccably. The cinematography is gorgeous and each shot lingers on the characters and the situations they are in, similar to the control and pacing of a Tarkovsky picture. More often than not, a dialogue scene between characters will be shown in a single long take. It is a technique that is well used throughout the film, often illustrating when Julius is in control, cuts becoming more frequent as he begins to lose it.
Whilst the writing of Julius is excellent, the character would not have truly come to life if it had not been for Moritz von Treuenfels’ truly fantastic performance. He brings such charisma to the character that it makes it clear why many like Julius and wish to be around him, despite his questionable behaviour. Moreover, whilst he is undoubtedly a very bad person, you can’t help but to like Julius yourself. Where Treuenfels’ performance shines brightest is in the moments by himself; no dialogue, no lies being told, just Julius in a room, alone. There are multiple moments where Julius is on his own and we fear that the film may quickly turn into a horror, Jönsson encouraging us to engage with the possibilities of what might be running through Julius’ mind. It’s an astonishing presentation with a fantastic and engrossing performance to match.
Axiom is a slow, subtle, quiet and somewhat simple film; one that may not be for everyone but is certainly worth your time and money. This is an excellent feature from Jöns Jönsson that proves he is one to keep an eye on in the coming years. With Axiom, we could be seeing the early realisations of one of the most brilliant directors of his generation.