Play moody for me
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