Film Review: Jauja
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From a disorientating, seemingly disconnected Lynchian scene in a cave, to vast expanses of time sans dialogue, 4:3 ratio filming and an awkwardly long ‘is this significant?’ inner-turmoil creating shot of a glass of milk on a balcony, it’s no wonder ‘Jauja’ has divided the opinions of international critics.
With a distinctly obscure, quasi-Lynchian, Western-reminiscent yet European New Wave feeling, Jauja has received extremely mixed reviews since being selected in Cannes Film Festival 2014’s Un Certain Regard category, where it received an international critics FIPRESCI Award. Argentinean director Lisandro Alonso has caused quite a storm at Cannes with Jauja being the second of his six feature-length films to be screened in the Un Certain Regard section.
Shot in an undeniably aesthetically pleasing, original way, this Danish-Argentinean film set in 19th century Patagonia is one of the most confusingly plotted yet visually awe-inspiring films I have ever seen. Admittedly, when watching, my mind went from trying to find significance in the often awkwardly long ‘what are we actually looking at?’ sans dialogue Patagonian landscape shots, to being frustrated that they halted the plot continuation, to just admiring their superficial beauty.
The film, about Danish military Captain Gunnar Dinesen’s (Viggo Mortensen) solitary search in the remote, foreign wilderness of Patagonia for his missing 15-year-old daughter Ingeborg, includes a number of long action-less, dialogue-less shots. These shots predominantly feature grey skies, spectacular rocky and/or sandy scenery and a ‘character perched on a rock’ looking brooding, pensive and/or forlorn in the foreground. The optimistic film-viewer in me saw these as admirable, reflective, inner-soul searching shots at first but after what seemed like, and may have been, 15 minutes at a time of hearing nothing but the wind in the background and watching a static shot, I started to view them as purely gratuitous and superficial. Yes, I understand that as a viewer I am often meant to read into films whatever meaning I see fit, but I, maybe naively or stupidly, could not read anything into an extensive shot of Patagonian rocks.
Even though I found the film slow, the events depicted moderately confusing and the way they were filmed quite dull and self-satisfied, there were some redeeming factors, such as the original music that lead actor and producer, Viggo Mortensen, added to the project, which interspersed the semi-silent, solemn scenes to a great effect.
Viggo’s performance as leading actor was praise-worthy near the end of the film, *spoiler alert*, as he successfully portrayed the resultant madness and hopelessness born from the grief, desperation and ill-founded optimism that had built up within his character throughout his solitary search for his daughter.
Overall, I found the film consistently hard to understand, and I questioned whether this disconnectedness was a conscious directorial choice, trying to make a point about whether, as viewers, we need to fully understand films to be able to enjoy them. However, some good points came in the form of Viggo Mortensen’s contributions and the use of the symbolic toy soldier and flea-ridden dog to give meaning to the disorientating leap - *spoiler alert* - from 19th century Patagonia and 21st century Denmark. What they achieved through limited quantities of local 35mm film, and the subsequent limited amount of takes that that allowed them, is admirable, but the number of seemingly gratuitous, self-satisfied shots, lack of dialogue and lack of a comprehensible ending meant that I just didn’t enjoy it.