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There are a small number of directors, despite their acclaim as auteurs, have criticism thrown their way. Two spring to mind immediately: David Lynch and Terrence Malick and when one reflects upon the strange, atmospheric journey director Lisandro Alonso presents in "Jauja," comparisons to both Lynch and Malick seem aptly fitting, for all the good and bad. While it is easy to summarize the basic plot structure and actions that set "Jauja" into motion, explaining what "Jauja" is beneath surface pleasantries, is an entirely different task. The film, a Spanish/Dutch language hybrid, casts Viggo Mortensen as Captain Gunnar Dinesen, a Danish military man uprooted and planted on the Argentine Pampa, with his daughter Ingeborg. If the harsh environment and ambiguous military threat weren't enough for Dinesen to have to deal with, the mere presence of his daughter brings out lecherous offers from lower ranking officers whose social upbringing are a stark contrast, to Dinesen's fatherly beacon of refined calm.
Putting the story aside for a moment, what "Jauja" has working for it in spades, is atmosphere. Alonso's direction and Timo Salminen's cinematography create a timeless looking film; although the aspect ratio and period setting do give it the feel of a film that could have been made several decades ago, the artistic choices will also remind the viewer of a 60s independent film style. It is truly a multifaceted work of art, which like its plot, can't be pinned down 100%. Adding more to the atmosphere is a haunting, spartan score, which shockingly was composed by star, Mortensen, who is truly a modern day renaissance man. "Jauja" is at its most atmospheric once the main plotline of Ingeborg going missing with a young soldier pulls Dinesen from the frontline into a surreal journey that begins as fatherly panic and strays into territories both absurd and magical.
The more absurd and fantastical "Jauja" grows, the more it lends itself to the criticisms Lynch and Malick often face. Alonso, for as good an eye as he holds for the frame, much like Malick before him, loves to hold shots for long periods of time, yet unlike Malaick some of these decisions are not always clear. Like Lynch, Alonso crafts a story that strays into the vaguely supernatural in the third act, yet retains a very dry, absurd sense of humor at the most tense moment; in turn, this makes for a film that really doesn't offer all of its wonders on one viewing and for that reason fails to hit the bullseye on the most basic level. What anchors the film through its many ups and few noticeable downs, is Mortensen's performance. Mortensen is an actor who had every right to ride the "Lord of the Rings" wave into a healthy Hollywood career of big budget tentpoles, but instead has withdrawn himself into truly being an actor's actor, beginning with his work with David Cronenberg and now immersing himself in a relatively small scale, Dutch/Spanish production. His performance is as impeccable as his English language outings and he seemingly, jumps between languages with little effort. We feel for his character's struggles and journeys and at the end of the day, it is the least we can expect from a good protagonist.
The 1.33:1 original aspect ratio is presented in a windowboxed format, giving the presentation a somewhat vintage look, which coincides wholly with the film's "out-of-time" cinematography. At initial glance colors look slightly off and the image itself feels just a tad off focus, however, given the overall tone of the film and for reasons I can't discuss without spoiling part of the film's third act, the transfer itself is well above average for intended purposes. There's a little bit of digital noise persisting throughout, but otherwise, it's free of any glaring defects.
The Dolby Digital Spanish/Dutch 5.1 audio is incredibly atmospheric, with a great demonstration of a well-designed sound mix. Rarely is their a quiet moment on the track, even during the film's many, long unbroken shots. Whether it is the wailing of animals in the distance or the haunting whipping winds of the Pampa, "Jauja's" sound mix will never be accused of being dull. Dialogue is clear, fluid and natural; if there is only one complaint to be rendered, it is against the relatively pedestrian low-end of the track.
The two primary bonus features are a 25-minute short film from the director (unofficially titled "Letter to Serra") as well as recording of Q&A with the director and star Mortensen at a film festival.
I know from a personal standpoint, "Jauja" is a film I will want to revisit. Alonso and co-screenwriter Fabian Casas won't be accused of a story that ever feels pointless; it may meander at times, but it pulls you back in with something shocking, mysterious, absurd, or all three rolled into one. It's third act is one of the more daring I've seen in recent memory and won't dare spoil in any shape or fashion. Coupled with a very admirable DVD release, "Jauja" is definitely aimed at patient, introspective audience. Recommended.