I know it’s probably a lucrative marketing technique that’s lost on me, but not being able to pronounce the name of a film is something I find deeply irritating.
‘Ah yeah, had a wicked evening thanks, I went to see….. Waaahayathsajaau. Yeah, that’s right, Jawathaaaaja. You know?…’
No one listens.
And kudos to the fabulous PR girl signing us all in to the screening, who had to listen to a dozen different variations of the same joke about the name JAUJA, and never failed to tickle our built-in writer’s egos with a polite chuckle.
Tongue-tying aside, watching JAUJA felt akin to walking through an art gallery, so beautiful and rich was every frame. Oddly employing an old-fashioned 4:3 frame (square-ish), the hilly landscapes, mottled sky and lavish period costume looked like perfect little paintings that we were encouraged to look at every bit of in each lingering take. And then the next picture would suddenly cut in, sometimes so bright the change was painful on the eye.
JAUJA doesn’t get too bogged down in the facts, and appropriately opens with a passage of text introducing us into a world of mysticism and fable, detailing man’s reverence with the long sought after paradise called ‘Jauja’. Trekking through the Argentinean dessert with his teenage daughter, Captain Dinesen (Viggo Mortensen) is a Danish officer in search of the very same land. But his mythical hunt becomes a desperate missing persons search when his daughter runs off with one of the young accompanying Spanish officers. Increasingly exasperated by the seemingly everlasting wilderness, getting more and more lost as time drags on, JAUJA scrambles space and time until we are stuck deep in his slippery psyche. It is another philosophical puzzle from director Alonso, this time on a bit more of a budget, that his close-knit fan base are going to relish.
It seems the elements are furtively set against poor Dinesen, who’s not-so-innocent doe-eyed daughter is clearly having much more fun romping in the mountains than trailing the desert on horseback looking for a legendary land that may or may not be there. Alonso deliberately stands back with the camera in order to let nature engulf him, which it effectively does mainly by being so irritatingly loud (howling wind, rustling grass and squawking wildlife), as if mocking the desperate man. This lends a distinctly self-conscious Euro art house vibe to the film; not much explanation, just life moseying about in all its raw beauty. There’s more than a touch of the Michael Haneke camera in the long takes and depth of field; there are moments of bloody violence when the Spanish infantry clash with the aboriginals, that are bluntly displayed to us without comment or intrusion.
Just when you think the foothills of this ‘land of plenty’ (translation of Jauja) will never be plundered thoroughly enough, it gets all existential up in Captain Dinesen’s world, taking us to a place a bit too meta and a tad too deliberately random to the point of bemusement. Dream sequences, flash-centuries-forwards, hallucinations, and witchy characters in caves all ensue. But there’s an element of well-timed realist dark humour to the other worldliness of his journey, like when he incredulously exclaims ‘my daughter is invisible!’ instead of simply ‘I can’t find her’, and growls on yet another incline ‘what a shit country…’ Even paradise looks like shit when you’re lost in it.
Ultimately, through a mixture of expressive beauty and dark humor, JAUJA makes a real go of conjuring a mythical land and connecting it to one man’s history, family and mental state. Getting lost in these metaphorical mountains for a couple of hours, without expecting any answers, is a surprisingly gratifying experience.
If I could only pronounce it, I’d be recommending it to Euro art house lovers and Viggo fans alike. It’s great to see him up a mountain again, out of breath, with one heck of a moustache.
The Final Word: The clue is in the name – you won’t get it, but it’s pretty