Daily | Cannes 2014 | Lisandro Alonso’s JAUJA



“Whenever a director from the outskirts of world or avant-garde cinema decides to work in anything remotely resembling Hollywood, you can count on tremors of fear running down the spines of cinephiles,” begins Peter Labuza at the Film Stage. But Lisandro Alonso‘s Jauja, starring Viggo Mortensen is “strange, beguiling, and excitedly didactic… While Alonso has certainly embraced ‘narrative’ (oh, that dirty word!), it would be laughable to call this anything resembling conventional, reinforcing the director as one of the most exciting slow-cinema filmmakers in the contemporary landscape. A 19th-century period piece, Jauja might be described as a quasi-Herzogian experience into the rocky terrain of the Argentinean desert, but Alonso has made this journey of madness his own thing, a film so possibly deceitful with its ultimate meaning that it’s best to buckle your seatbelts and enjoy the ride.”

“For a start, the film was shot in the vintage academy size (or the square size), with the four edges smoothened as in an ancient picture frame,” notes Kong Rithdee in the Bangkok Post. “This isn’t a stylistic quirk, but a choice that complements the spatial and temporal concept of the film. Taking place in 1882 in the vast expanse of Patagonia, the story centers on Captain Dinesen (Viggo Mortensen), a Danish engineer who arrives at this remote part of the Earth with his teenage daughter. When the daughter runs away with a local solider, Dinesen sets out into the unknown territory, scarcely populated and yet infested by rumours and myths, and probably by the melancholic ghosts of the past as well as the future…. This film is a history (or memory?) of the place and the time locked inside it—and in that way Alonso has joined his kindred spirits such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Béla Tarr and Lav Diaz.”

“A more magical, philosophical and indeed surreal trip than we’re used to from him, Jauja is likely to divide Lisandro’s admirers, purists liable to balk at the story’s dream elements,” predicts Jonathan Romney, writing for Screen Daily. “As ruminative as Alonso’s other films, Jauja ends up taking us to completely unfamiliar terrain, the film hinting at the sort of mystical or metaphysical journey one might normally associate with films such as Jodorowsky’s El Topo or indeed 2001: A Space Odyssey (obliquely hinted at in the coda).”

“Alonso is such an original director that he doesn’t offer many reference points or footholds going in to films like Freedom, Los muertos and Liverpool,” writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. “Here the title Jauja refers to an Incan settlement that became the capital of Peru, founded by Pizarro and the gold-obsessed Spanish conquistadores. It suggests a mythic El Dorado that Europeans lusted after…. Finnish D.P. Timo Salminen, who has shot several of Aki Kaurismäki’s films, works gamely with the eccentric choice of a square frame with rounded corners” and “Mortensen also gets co-producer and music credit for a couple of fine modern pieces saved for the end of the film.”

“Add to that a direction based on some very long set designs with an infinite depth of field, from which the strange characters enter and leave at real speed, soft panoramic views and an exceedingly powerful visual perspective of nature, and you will still only have a completely relative idea of the relentless rigor of this consuming film,” writes Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa.

But for the Playlist‘s Jessica Kiang, Jauja is “a test of patience which may work better if you think of it as staring at a series of lovely paintings for two hours. Watching them dry.”

For more in Spanish, see Mónica Delgado at desistfilm and Diego Lerer.

Updates, 5/22: For Notebook editor Daniel Kasman, Jauja is “radical… not in a single moment but in a real, felt aggregation, as if the previous shots were not lost to be fogged by memory, but that image after image of the film stacks on top of one another, layers of quietly pulsing moments thick and tactile like terracotta tiles. Many of these colors I haven’t seen in film, a progression of mineral-like colors proceeding from the waterbound algae clinging to the coast to crystalline moss greens of nearby fields, the dry-faded straw greens of deeper brush, the nubbly ochre and yellows of inland rocky hills.”

Marco Grosoli in the Film Comment roundtable: “It shows Alonso’s cinema as being the only Griffithian cinema that you have now, because it really focuses on the very basics, and it does so with a very compelling narrative and a very achieved scheme behind the film. And also great cinematography.”

Guy Lodge at In Contention: “Intermittently playful, consistently confounding, finally petrified, it’s a film of fussy, cultivated austerity; Alonsolytes will debate what it’s hiding, while others will suggest ‘an actual movie’ as the answer.”

Update, 5/28: “There’s more dialogue in the first reel of Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja—Alonso’s first film made with a professional cast and a screenwriting partner—than in all four of the young Argentinian director’s prior narrative features combined,” notes Variety‘s Scott Foundas. “Yet this hallucinatory head-trip Western remains unmistakably Alonso’s film from first frame to last—a metaphysical road movie in which origin and destination are markedly less important than the journey itself.”

Update, 6/2: “Alonso turns his various aesthetic choices into consciously arcane signposts that point toward both influence and ideal,” writes Jordan Cronk at Reverse Shot. “An entire school of bygone Portuguese masters (Oliveira, Reis, Cordeiro)—not to mention likeminded Chilean (Ruiz) and French (Straub-Huillet) formalists—are referenced in Alonso’s highly analytic and logistically arranged compositions.”

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