Patagonia, 1882. As the Argentinean army wages a genocidal campaign against the native Indian population, Danish mercenary and engineer Captain Gunnar Dinesen (Viggo Mortensen) arrives to take command of a small coastal garrison, bringing with him his 14-year-old daughter Ingeborg (Viilbjork Malling Agger).

Beautiful and naïve, Ingeborg soon attracts the lecherous attentions of Dinesen’s lonely, sex-starved troops who are haunted by tales of the quasi-mythical bogeyman Zuluaga, an Argentinean army officer, stationed in the desert, who went mad and went native and now prowls the wilderness in a woman’s dress, butchering all who cross his path.

When the lonely Ingeborg elopes in the night with a hunky young soldier, heading off into the desert, Dinesen sets off into the desert in desperately lukewarm pursuit, losing himself, and possibly his mind, in the raw, desolate landscape…

According to a portentous opening title card, Jauja is a mythical paradise, a land of plenty that all who search for get lost along the way. Pretentious, glacially-paced, uninvolving and framed entirely in wide shot in boxy 4:3 screen ratio which would recall the tintype photographs of the era were the film shot in sepia rather than crisp 35mm, Jauja certainly lost me along the way.

Unfolding in a series of tableaux which allows the audience to reflect at length on the relatively plain Patagonian wilderness, Jauja opens with an interminably long static shot of Dinesen and Ingeborg sat on a rock, Dinesen with his back to the camera, discussing their nomadic, rootless existence and Ingeborg’s desire for a permanent home. We’re then introduced to the day-to-day tedium of army camp life; a soldier scoops shellfish from their shell with a knife, the garrison’s lascivious NCO masturbates at length while sat submerged in a coastal rock pool. In fact, the Sergeant tediously wanking may serve as a metaphor for the film itself; it’s one long slow jerk off where nothing particularly graphic occurs onscreen in any detail and the results are merely set adrift to settle where they may, much like the audience.

Absurdist and defiantly anti-narrative, Alonso squanders the rich potential of what could have been a Herzogian take on John Ford’s The Searchers that raises questions on the nature of storytelling, myth, colonialism, manifest destiny, the nature of reality and parenthood but instead chooses to serve up a shaggy dog story where Viggo Mortensen follows a very shaggy dog through a rocky landscape of waving pampas grass that would give Terrence Malick an erection before having him disappear into a hole in the ground (and Alonso up his own arse), the film jumping a Proustian shark.

Obtuse, vacuous and slower than treacle being poured uphill, Jauja is what you might expect if you gave an Argentinean film student a Tarkovsky boxset for Christmas

 

Movie Review: Jauja
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