Jauja review: ‘A beautifully obscure journey’

Alan Laidlaw reviews Jauja – a sprawling pseudo western experiment starring Viggo Mortensen

Let me begin by saying this: Jauja isn’t for everyone. It’s true that you can’t please all the people all of the time, but Argentinian director Lisandro Alonso’s latest film, a sprawling minimalist epic, doesn’t even begin to entertain the idea of pleasing a majority.

Jauja is sure to be like no other film you see this year. There are very little exchanges between characters and time feels like an irrelevant matter; the surreal effect of this is that the film’s journey seemingly has no forward movement.

Alonso is known for being a director who places emphasis on images over words (his previous films often lasting over three hours, with very little to no dialogue) and this time he continues to carve out a very unique and demanding brand of film-making. He isn’t interesting in carrying on the traditional commonalities of narrative, but instead focuses on colour, movement and dramatic expression to create a web of unspoken messages.

Set in what is presumed to be Patagonia sometime during the 19th Century (the time and locale are never explicitly addressed), the film follows a Danish captain Gunnar (Viggo Mortensen) who’s been assigned to kill the natives and drive forward a new frontier. After his daughter elopes with a young soldier, Gunnar is forced to take a lonely journey deep into the desert in search for her.

Framed using the near obsolete 4:3 ratio with rounded ages, Jauja takes on a highly pictorial dreamlike feel. Alonso’s shots are ponderous – taking time to fully develop each image, which after some time begin to seamlessly blend into one. While Mortensen, who is given the sparsest of scripts to work with, manages to turn in one of the most psychologically nuanced performances of his career.

As the film progresses Jauja continuously plays with our expectations of the world in which it’s set; increasingly folding in elements of magic-realism, coercing the film to delve deeper and deeper into what ends up like a haunted essay on deconstructing genre.

This experiment is fully realised in the final scene – one which will either leave you with your jaws significantly extended or have you lining up at the box-office demanding your money back.

As previously stated, Jauja isn’t for everyone.

Jauja is released in the UK on April 17

More: Viggo Mortensen: ‘Naked wrestling was pretty uncomfortable’

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