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Film Review: "Jauja"


In "Jauja," Viggo Mortensen stars as a Danish engineer, Gunnar Dinesen, tasked with aiding the Argentine army in exploring a remote, wind-swept region of Patagonia in the late-19th century. When his 15-year-old daughter, Inge (Viilbjørk Malling Agger), runs off with a young soldier in the middle of the night, Dinesen sets off after her. From there, Lisandro Alonso's mesmerizingly dreamy Western unfolds at a leisurely pace -- it's very much of the slow cinema movement -- expanding to become an enigmatic meditation on time, loss, and the cruel indifference of nature. Before he sets out, Dinesen is warned of Zuluaga, a former general who went mad and vanished, but has become a figure of local legend. In the film's opening text, we learn that its title comes from the name of a mythic paradise that ensnares any man foolish enough to go searching for it -- and that should tip you off as to whether any satisfying ending awaits us at the end of our journey.

Finnish cinematographer Timo Salminen shoots the film in a square aspect ratio with rounded off edges, as though we're viewing the world through a slide projector or the world's best View-Master, giving the image the appearance of an antique photograph. Every frame is artfully composed, and the long takes paired with an extreme depth of field allow us ample opportunity to scan every inch of the harsh landscape. The sense of dread this instills dovetails with the film's general preoccupation with the unknown: characters are constantly gazing off-screen, as if hinting at the violence and danger that lie just beyond our field of vision.