By Daniel Barnes
More adventures in aspect ratios. Mommy director Xavier Dolan, Argentinean auteur Lisandro Alonso sees your 1:1 frame and raises you the rounded corners and stiff compositions of a 19th-century photograph.
Viggo Mortensen stars as Gunnar Denisen, a Danish surveyor stuck with his daughter and a band of lusty soldiers on a seemingly endless mission to a hyperreal tropical desert. When the daughter sneaks off to sleep with a young soldier, Gunnar chases her into the wilderness, increasingly losing touch with time and logic the longer he pursues.
Alonso aims for a surreal, slow cinema take on a psychological western, sort of like Anthony Mann meets Peter Greenaway, and he wills you into his weird rhythm by allowing most shots to run a minute or so longer than you would expect. There’s a single shot of Mortensen filling a canteen that may still be going.
Like a lot of slow cinema, Jauja sits halfway between hypnotic and narcoleptic, with vibrant colors that pop off the screen, delicate and detailed use of sound editing, and a sea lion-infested, psychedelic landscape that has to be seen to be believed.
There’s also a ton of dead air. The script for Jauja emits faint echoes of The Searchers and Heart of Darkness, but the film is determinedly vapid. Meanwhile, a late twist that jumps away from those impossibly beautiful landscapes only exposes a fairly prosaic visual style.