Like each of Lisandro Alonso‘s cinematic offerings that came before – La Libertad, Los Muertos, Fantasma and Liverpool – the Un Certain Regard debuted, FIPRESCI Prize winning Jauja regards the solitary man facing the exactings of life, nature and the human spirit. But something is quite different here. There seems to be some kind of scripted narrative, lavish costuming and even what many would call a proper movie star in the robustly mustachioed Viggo Mortensen. Yet by embracing these glacial shifts in the filmmaking process itself, Alonso has elevated his art from contemplatively ethnographic to something much more strange, exciting, illusive and illuminating.
For the first time in his career, Alonso parsed out something resembling a working feature length script in partnership with the Argentinian poet Fabián Casas whom he’d worked with previously on untitled Albert Serra addressed short and took on Mortensen as both his leading man producer on the project, bolstering the project’s marketability considerably while investing in a creative partner of immense talent with a kindred sense of genuine modesty. And on top of all that unfamiliarity, Aki Kaurismäki’s long time cinematographer Timo Salminen agreed to shoot the film, lending his striking visual sensibility to compliment Alonso’s traditionally stark compositions and long unbroken takes.
Framed in the classic, round, unmatted Academy ratio and bathed in a rainbow of Patagonian color, Jauja posits the Danish imperialist Captain Gunnar Dinesen (Mortensen) and his unwed young daughter Ingeborg (Viilbjørk Malling Agger) in the midst of an increasingly awkward situation between them and the Spanish speaking soldiers under his command on the shores of Argentina sometime during the 1880s. Seemingly the only female for miles, Dinesen’s daughter fleetingly asks for a dog while being courted by soldiers, and despite her father’s protests to disregard their inquisitions, she runs away with a soldier, sending her adoring dad on a wild goose chase into the increasingly barren wilderness to retrieve his beloved while a supposedly crazed deserter named Zuluaga is roaming the hinterland with blood on his hands and a woman’s dress covering the rest.
This is where the film departs from languorous observation into the slow cinema equivalent of the man hunting, save the girl thriller plot, though free of any tropes such a label might indicate. What Lisandro and his team have laid out is an astounding metamorphosis of a film, transforming and revealing itself in gradual gradations of emotional, panoramic vulnerability. Despite all the painstaking authenticity of time and ethnology, Dinesen’s journey into the desolate heart of this mystery that would be a shame to spoil, Jauja may just be a beautifully cinematic fugue state, a sort of subconscious processing of separation anxiety between father and daughter, or even, a daughter and her canine best friend.
The Cinema Guild continue to take on challenging world cinema of the highest caliber, with Lisandro Alonso’s latest feature being an exemplary example. The transfer of cinematographer Timo Salminen’s strikingly beautiful imagery is absolutely flawless. Details are as crisp as can be, while the color palette conjured here reminds of the audacious work lensed by Werner Herzog collaborator Thomas Mauch, with bold primary colors, such as Gunnar’s bright red pants or the bright blue sky, somehow both ultra naturalistic and somehow supremely surreal. Similarly, the sound design here is phenomenal, the subtleties of every environmental sound whisking through the surrounds heightening the experience at every moment thanks to an incredible DTS-HD 5.1 master track. Outstanding.
Untitled (Letter to Serra)
This short directed by Alonso in 2011 was part of a series of filmic-exchanges between directors from around the world, this one being addressed to Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra. The film features Misael Saavedra, lead actor from La Libertad, as well as the Argentine poet Fabián Casas, who would end up collaborating with Alonso on Jauja. It’s a haunting piece unlike any of Lisandro’s other films, with its ghostly cinematography floating through the greenery of the La Pampa province while dogs disappear, a hunter shoots at god only knows and a poet appears to tell the story of Zuluaga the savage. 23 min
This is a very brief teaser for the 2009 BAFICI Film Festival in Buenos Aires which was directed by Alonso and consists of a single shot of an owl staring into the lens. 1 min
Recorded at the 52nd New York Film Festival, this conversation between critic Kent Jones, director Lisandro Alonso and actor Viggo Mortensen ranges from the film’s origins through their takes on what the film could mean and beyond. 32 min
As gorgeous and moody as the film itself, though just hinting at the ethereal elements that make the film so haunting. 2 min
This leaflet features a stellar new essay on the film by Argentinian film critic Quintín.
At the post-screening Q&A I attended at TIFF last year, Mortensen demurely compared Jauja to the esoteric work of Russian masters like Andrei Tarkovsky or Alexander Sokurov. The comparison is wholly justified. Alonso’s latest film is an absolute stunner. Visually sumptuous and impeccably acted, the film uses the rich landscapes of Patagonia, as well as the pliancy of the human face to subtly convey our anxieties rising to the fore, taking hold and painting a reality of its own bleak making. Lisandro’s film is a modern masterpiece, nothing less.
Film Review: ★★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆