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I went to see director Lisandro Alonso's 'Jauja' especially because his earlier trilogy blew me away. 'La Libertad' (2001), 'Los Muertos' (2004) and 'Fantasma' (2006) each observe a solitary man a survivor roaming through the jungle wordlessly, like a wild animal. (The setting of 'Fantasma' is urban, but can also metaphorically be regarded as a jungle.) A decade later, I am still amazed by the power of those films and by how little they rely on plot, dialogue or props. Alonso's 2008 effort, 'Liverpool', is also minimalist and follows a similar theme, but tells a slightly more specific story.
'Jauja' is more elaborate than any of Alonso's previous work. As in 'Liverpool', there is something like a plot and very limited, but significant dialogue (in Spanish, Danish and French, in this case). A gorgeous, more sophisticated cinematography presents landscapes that bring to mind 19th Century oil paintings. This is a period film that involves realistic costumes and the kind of beautifully crafted tools used by explorers and the military in the 1800s. Also, 'Jauja' features a famous actor, Viggo Mortensen of 'The Lord of the Rings', who co-produced it and co-wrote the musical score. I think this was all a great way for Alonso to try something new and fresh, without giving up his very unique style and aesthetics.
Don't expect a linear, mainstream film or you may be disappointed. This is an art-house Western a strange, slow-paced ride through the vast, open space of the Argentine Patagonia. It addresses the exhilarating sense of adventure, but also of violence and dread, that one might experience in the hinterland. The story reminds me of Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness', in that it depicts a struggle between the forces of "civilization" and the primitive, while also drawing a parallel between the wilderness of outdoor nature and our subconscious. (Alonso's film 'Los Muertos', which shows a man travelling along a river, may also have a link to Conrad's short novel.) The film's tempo, surreal situations and the use of places as a reference to states of mind are reminiscent of Tarkovsky's 'Stalker' or 'Solaris'.
We are explained that "Jauja" is a mythical land of abundance, something akin to paradise, whose search in the old days drove many to ruin. Dinesen (Mortensen) aims to establish order in a distant, foreign land, but keeps running into unruly behavior, left and right. It's as if the indomitable spirit of the desert possessed everyone around him and suggested to him with its dreamy voice, sometimes forcefully, sometimes playfully that his stubbornly controlling approach towards life is misguided, a lost cause. Perhaps more than in any other film he's made, the director achieves communicating something magical and ethereal, pointing to the deep, enigmatic wisdom that we each hold inside, but are afraid to listen to. The ending may imply that all these characters are, in fact, interconnected, showing different sides of the same stone (much like the "animus" and "anima" in Jungian psychology describe the male and female aspects in every person, for example).
Like Alonso's earlier trilogy, 'Jauja' poetically hints at the magnificence and mystery of human life in God's garden. Its images and sounds seem to come from far, far away, yet somehow feel eerily familiar and close.
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