Play moody for me

Pasatiempo - - MOVING IMAGES - — Robert Ker

Jauja , ex­per­i­men­tal drama, not rated, in Span­ish and Dan­ish with sub­ti­tles, The Screen , 3.5 chiles The lat­est film from Ar­gen­tine direc­tor Lisan­dro Alonso ( Liver­pool ) doesn’t meet the ex­pec­ta­tions of what a movie usu­ally looks like. You can count the cast mem­bers on both hands. Dia­logue hangs heavy in the air and then drifts away for long stretches at a time. The film is clearly a West­ern, but it’s a min­i­mal­ist ef­fort that doesn’t tran­spire in the Amer­i­can West. The plot fre­quently wan­ders off the map and into un­ex­pected places. Jauja doesn’t even fit the de­scrip­tion of what a theater-screened movie usu­ally looks like, com­ing in at the 4x3 as­pect ra­tio: Once the stan­dard for all cinema, it might re­mind mod­ern au­di­ences of an Instagram photo.

Like many images fil­tered through Instagram, the movie seems to pop from the screen with bold, vivid colors that sparkle in bright hues and that some­how feel both time­less and dis­tinctly mod­ern. I saw the movie at the New York Film Fes­ti­val last fall, where it looked like a mil­lion dol­lars and got a rous­ing ova­tion. It’s now six months later, and I re­call this aes­thetic with com­plete clar­ity.

Jauja opens in roughly the 19th cen­tury in a coastal part of Patag­o­nia. Alonso has cine­matog­ra­pher Timo Salmi­nen ma­nip­u­late the re­gion’s al­ready sat­u­rated nat­u­ral colors to make rocks and lichen seem to have come from an en­tirely dif­fer­ent planet. A loosely de­fined group of sol­diers in col­or­ful garb loi­ters on th­ese rocks, chew­ing the fat. One, played by Viggo Mortensen, is overly protective of his teenage daugh­ter (Vi­il­b­jørk Malling Ag­ger). When the daugh­ter dis­ap­pears into the wilder­ness with an­other sol­dier, he sets off in pur­suit, spend­ing the rest of the film search­ing for her.

With his work in the Lord of the Rings tril­ogy and his col­lab­o­ra­tions with David Cro­nen­berg grow­ing ever smaller in the rearview mir­ror, Mortensen’s pres­ence may give view­ers the feel­ing they’re vis­it­ing an aging friend they’d nearly forgotten about. It’s easy to un­der­stand why Peter Jack­son cast him as a ranger with a se­cret past: He wears a his­tory on his face that can tell au­di­ences more than pages of scripts ever could. Here, he wan­ders into an end­less hori­zon that, we sus­pect, holds no good — but we hope for the op­po­site.

This jour­ney takes mul­ti­ple turns that blos­som un­ex­pect­edly yet nat­u­rally, fol­low­ing a me­an­der­ing, myth-based logic that some­how man­ages to re­main fairly con­sis­tent. Jauja of­ten re­calls the ab­sur­dist spirit of cult-cinema hero Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky, an­other South Amer­i­can film­maker. The dif­fer­ence is that Alonso works with­out the other direc­tor’s some­times-lav­ish pro­duc­tion bud­gets, in­stead achiev­ing a strong sense of in­ner peace. It all un­furls like a dream, one you won’t for­get any­time soon.

Vi­il­b­jørk Malling Ag­ger and Viggo Mortensen

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