By Ellery Nick @Ellery__Nick
Viggo Mortensen stars alongside the scene-stealing rocks of Argentina’s Patagonia region as he sets off to reclaim his daughter Ingeborg who has lost herself to the desert and arms of a young lover. Mortensen plays Gunnar Dinesen, a Danish Captain as rusty as his sword; more interested in the native birds than the dark work he has been commission to perform. Stranded in a distant land, he frets over his eerie child who’s been making eyes at a certain shy Spanish lad. Elsewhere the plot is intriguing, but gives little away. Most of what we learn is gleaned through oblique snatches of conversation. In another film this might have created an absence of context, but this is confident storytelling from director Lisandro Alonso who leaves us to eavesdrop on a fable of complexity and weight that we simply aren’t fully clued up on. Roughly speaking, Spanish and Danish forces have combined in a joint expedition to clear a region of local tribes deemed Coconut Heads. There is some concern over Zuluaga, a lost Spanish soldier who has possibly gone mad and all this before the Danish Captain’s daughter flees into the night with her young lover. Despairing at the loss, Captain Gunnar unsheathes his neglected sword and hurries after her on the weary trail. Weary it is. The Captain’s lips are soon parched, his feet exhausted, shoved by bullying winds onto jagged rocks that offer no rest. Mortensen is excellent at this gruelling task and does well to keep himself centre stage as the rocks of Patagonia have enough presence in themselves to usurp any theatrical capers going on around them. This is a deeply beautiful film, its flat volcanic landscapes are shot in 35mm and accompanied by birdsong and whistling air, but for all that is accomplished in bringing a windswept world to life, what is actually conjured is a stage. Jauja is a play.
At the start of each act the performers are fixed to a tableaux, their postures carefully arranged while they trade lines. A preening Mercutio mocks his red-faced comrade who is consumed with lust for the Danish Captain’s daughter and when they leave the camera remains with the vacated stage. For an interval we’re left to watch a horse, the swaying of reeds, a man warming his hands by the fire, a vale of stars that becomes covered with cloud. The actors can almost be sensed nearby, hurriedly changing costume and rushing to new positions for the next performance.
And then comes the surprise. It would be a disservice to say what happens after the first acts, and this would imply that I know, which I do not. Doubtless there are blogs already blowing-the-lid off what Jauja means, but my own theories, enlightening and correct as they may be, will not trouble you here. Suffice it to say you’re in for a wonderful muddle and it is a shame to know even that. I, like those others who arrived failing to pronounce How-ha were gifted a fresh and rare experience. The only thing you really need to know is that the film is good, fair and delightfully strange.
Juaja is in cinemas from Friday 10th April. Don’t miss it.