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Issue No. 17 - Enigma

JAUJA (2014) LISANDRO ALONSO

Image above:  A poster from Jauja (image from official site)
 

The opening shot of this surreal and beautiful film is pure poetry. A dapper man in frock coat and a felt hat sits on a rock facing away from the camera and a young lovely girl sits next to him facing the camera holding a book. She is wearing a long blue dress in the late 19th century style. They are leaning against each other in a familial and affectionate posture and she is musing on her wish for a dog. He is her father. When the camera pulls back we see them silhouetted against the vast wilderness of Patagonia which spreads all around them. Idyllic.

Then the roving camera moves in on a man sitting in a small shallow pond relaxing in water up to his chest which is covered with all manner of chains and medallions. Closer inspection reveals that he is scruffy and uncouth-looking and he is masturbating. And thus the tension is established. When he emerges from the pond he dresses in military clothes which resemble a confederate soldier with red trousers and suspenders. When he enters the frame with the man and his daughter, we realize that this is a military encampment. It seems they are part of the same mission which is the Conquest of the Desert - a euphemism for ridding the area of its indigenous population to make way for European colonization. The man with the daughter is Gunnar Dinesen (Viggo Mortenson), a Danish engineer tasked with surveying the land. The soldier, Lt. Pittalunga, whose job is to protect the civilians, makes lascivious observations about his daughter, the 15 year old Ingeborg, much to the dismay of Gunnar. Pittalunga and the other soldiers refer to the native population as “coconut heads” with contempt and loathing. They are on a bloody genocidal mission. They also speak of a mythic figure, a soldier named Zuluago, formerly one of their own, who has gone rogue and is wreaking havoc upon all who come in his path. It seems that he is a bloodthirsty equal opportunity threat. This is hostile territory. Not so idyllic.

@zx_640@zy_391-2A still from Jauja. (Image from official social media)

 

The presence of Ingeborg(Villbjorg Malling Agger) provides the fulcrum of the storyline. She is a dreamy, romantic presence and develops an infatuation with the shy young soldier, Corto, who is the aide to the repellent Pittalunga. She wordlessly seduces him and then the two decide to run away together. With her disappearance everything goes in a new direction. Gunnar dons his military uniform, a double-breasted wool coat with gold buttons, high boots and a sword and charges into the wilderness as if into battle. However, once it becomes clear that he has no idea of what direction to take his journey becomes one of survival. He is ill-equipped with little food or water and as he gets weaker and disoriented his unweildy military garb becomes more preposterous as he stumbles over the rocky terrain and struggles to mount his horse.

This search becomes a hallucinogenic journey as he encounters frightening natives, finds human heads impaled on poles, the horribly mutilated body of the young Corto. He is led to a cave by a dog where he finds an old woman who has lived there for many years and speaks to him as if she is his daughter or perhaps his dead wife. And just when I thought it had gone on way too long we cut to a modern setting in a beautiful Danish home inhabited by a contemporary version of Ingeborg. Besides the presence of Ingeborg the only thing which connects this section to the rest of the film is the dogs - which are like the ones encountered in the wilderness of Patagonia. And then it ends.

@zx_640@zy_391-1A still from Jauja. (Image from official social media)

 

I was left in the dark as to it’s meaning but haunted by the beauty of the film which is gloriously shot with so many stunning compositions, often incorporating strategic splashes of red to accent the barren wilderness and glorious sunsets. The soundtrack is appropriately beautiful and surreal and was composed by Viggo Mortenson. The comment I heard as I left the screening: “There might be less here than meets the eye” rings true. Nonetheless, there is much to meet the eye.

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