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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Jauja

Jauja is a 2014 film by Argentinian Lisandro Alonso. It is hard to describe, but can be traced to two standard works--Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and John Ford's The Searchers. It is a kind of Western, but set in Patagonia with Danes.

Viggo Mortensen, who is probably the reason this film got made, stars as a Danish military man in Argentina with his 15-year-old daughter. I'm not sure why he is there--surveying or something. The film opens with the image that is on the poster, which is very painterly, as is most of the film. It is not really driven by narrative but by images.

Anyway, Mortensen is worried about an Argentine officer having eyes on his daughter (when we first see him he is masturbating in a pool of water), but instead the daughter runs off with a young soldier. Mortensen goes after her, but is under threat from indigenous people and another officer who ran off and went native.

This is a very slow-moving film, and I must admit it put me to sleep. There are long stretches of nothing but Mortensen moving across the terrain, which is not particularly scenic. Then, in the last stretch of the film, time bends. He meets an old woman living in a cave and we get the idea that she may be his daughter. An epilogue set in modern times, with the same actress who plays the daughter, further confuses everything.

I saw Jauja because it was on a list of best films of the year in the annual poll of critics in Film Comment, and every year there are films like this--films made for critics that would stultify a general audience. I'm of two minds about them: I appreciate the originality and artistry, but damn they can be boring. How about some entertainment, too?

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