You may think it pointless to compare Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja with the recent western Bone Tomahawk, given that one’s a serious arthouse film and the other one’s Jauja (joke), but actually the two do share some similarities: though set in different countries both stories are concerned, up to a point, with the search for a young woman who has been abducted by a native tribe, and neither film is the retread of The Searchers that such a plotline would suggest. Yet where Bone Tomahawk descends into a final act of primal, bloody hack n’ slash (and slash n’ hack), the Argentina-set Jauja ditches the idea of the attempted rescue to become something altogether more enigmatic. Alonso co-wrote the film with the Argentinian poet Fabián Casas, and their screenplay starts off as a mysterious, minimalist period piece before it turns into a work that can best be described as hallucinatory, allowing the landscape to become the primary focus before ending with a puzzling riddle that crosses continents and centuries.
The picture above isn’t representitive of the film’s ratio – it’s shot in the classic Academy 4:3, with rounded corners – but it does give you a good sense of the colours found throughout, with the Argentinian Pampas and wide, open skies offering a combination of strong blues, greens and yellows. Viggo Mortensen is typically excellent (and unobtrusive) as the Danish soldier whose daughter (Viilbjørk Malling Agger) goes missing (first absconding with a young private and then, later, abducted), and Jauja includes a great many scenes in which we watch the actor traversing the grasslands and rocky outcrops as his character searches for the girl. Timo Salminen’s lens remains fixed on the landscape for longer than you might expect it to, often well after the players have disappeared from the frame, which imbues the film with the kind of slow, steady pace that will doubtless put many people off; yet that pacing is crucial in allowing a strange, otherworldly air to develop, which paves the way for the strange final act. It’s a mysterious film, and my first taste of Alonso’s work, so I’m intrigued to see more; the ghost of Tarkovsky lingers here, particularly when the landscape suddenly takes on a magical and threatening air. Mortensen – who has lived in Denmark and Argentina, and speaks fluent Spanish – also contributes the guitar-driven score, which gives Jauja one of its few links with the North American western.
Directed by: Lisandro Alonso.
Written by: Lisandro Alonso, Fabián Casas.
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Viilbjørk Malling Agger, Ghita Nørby, Adrian Fondari.
Cinematography: Timo Salminen.
Editing: Gonzalo del Val, Natalia López.
Music: Viggo Mortensen.
Running Time: 97 minutes.