“I’m sure we’ll find a way.”
Before going in to Jauja – Lisandro Alonso’s latest multinational semi-surrealist period drama, please erase any & all comparisons to the cinema of David Lynch. Between the initial film festival reports and the IMDB message board discussions, I found that Lynch was the most commonly used reference point in a lot of early reviews of this film. While David Lynch is certainly one of the greatest modern surrealist directors to pick up a camera, he certainly didn’t influence every single movie that could possibly be categorized as “strange” or “different”, and Jauja is definitely an example of this (the Lynch comparisons have since cooled off, but I worry some folks will still expect his style of surrealism here when they really shouldn’t).
For those of you looking for some kind of a comparison (which I feel helps when dealing with a movie like this), I’d place Jauja somewhere in between the cinema of Carlos Reygadas (specifically Japon & Silent Light) and Philip Ridley’s The Reflecting Skin, which, coincidentally, co-stars Jauja leading man & film score composer Viggo Mortensen (the criminally underrated Reflecting Skin was one of Moretensen’s earliest roles). The multi-nationalism/multi-culturalism that we see in Jauja is reminiscent of the Danish/Latin-American hybrid dialogue in Silent Light, while the rural environment and gorgeous landscape shots, courtesy of cinematographer; Timo Salminen (with the subconscious influence of Nestor Almendros), are right out of The Reflecting Skin (the exploration of boredom within The Reflecting Skin also appears to be a possible influence on Alonso’s latest film). There’s also a touch of Kelly Reichardt’s Meeks Cutoff in that Jauja is more of a realistic “road movie” that shows the grueling side of making a long journey prior to the invention of the automobile (and even with cars, road trips can be long & boring). And like Meeks Cutoff, Jauja challenges the idea of what a western drama is.
Set in the 19th century (…or is it?), Danish general “Gunnar” (Viggo) is stationed on an outpost in Argentina on a mission to ultimately rid the Patagonian land of its indigenous people (this aspect of the movie plays the background but should not be forgotten). When his daughter “Ingeborg” unexpectedly runs off with a young soldier, Gunnar sets out to find her but slowly loses his mind in the process similar to Chris Kelvin in Solaris (in fact, the environment surrounding Gunnar on his journey almost mimics the planet of Solaris). Like some elements in the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky, the last 10-15 minutes of Jauja is an especially trippy (although calm) journey in to the subconscious (I know Tarkovsky is another overused reference point in film criticism but the comparison to Jauja is reasonable in my opinion). The relationship between fathers & daughters can sometimes be complicated and Lisandro Alonso gives us an abstracted view in to this relationship.
Jauja has the tone & pacing of a four hour long movie when in fact it’s under two hours. You’d think when a filmmaker only has 110 minutes to spare they wouldn’t waste the audiences time with long unbroken shots of horses drinking water or characters just sitting around but Lisandro Alonso doesn’t seem to care. Personally, I find that commendable. For quite some time I’ve been advocating for more movies, both mainstream & “art-house”, to have less talking and Jauja definitely answered my personal request. At its core, this is a meditative film (with hints of issues like colonialism & the ownership of land) that borders on a feature length experiment. Not only does Alonso test our patience with the pacing, but the cast of actors is a mixture of professional & non-professional (that’s always a crap shoot). The script was also co-written by a poet (Fabian Casas) rather than a traditional screenwriter.
This film is also impressive because of Lisandro’s age. While he certainly isn’t young (39), Jauja at times feels like the final film of an 80-something year old filmmaker going through a personal existential crisis. Lisandro Alonso has a bit of an old soul and it shows here.
Another important factor to be aware of here is that this film is not for everyone (if you haven’t already figured that out by now). I know that sounds like one of those copout excuses for a slow “art-house” movie, but Jauja has very little dialogue (when compared to more “traditional films”) and the overall pacing is very slow (even the conversations and exchanges of words between the actors is a bit delayed). Casting “A-list”/established/known actors like Viggo in films like this can sometimes be problematic. Although this won’t be screening at a multiplex in midtown Manhattan or downtown LA, Viggo Mortensen’s name is still synonymous with names like Peter Jackson (The Lord Of The Rings trilogy) & David Cronenberg (A History Of Violence & Eastern Promises) and this could potentially attract the wrong demographic. I remember all the disappointed movie-goers complaining about how “nothing happened” in the Matt Damon/Casey Affleck-starring Gerry or how “boring” Broken Flowers was in comparison to most other Bill Murray movies. Jauja is not your typical film in the Viggo Mortensen cannon so don’t expect a lot of “action” (although some of you will be happy to learn that around the 62-63 minute mark, there is some mild action). Actually, if your favorite part of LOTR was the journey involving Frodo & Sam schlepping through middle earth for what seemed like an eternity, perhaps you just might enjoy Jauja.
Jauja is the kind of movie that will be unfairly labeled as boring & pretentious by some and hastily called a beautiful work of art by others. Personally, I think it falls somewhere in the middle. If you have the patience (and enjoy coffee with your movie) I recommend checking this out.