Glasgow Film Festival: Lisandro Alonso's singular western stars Viggo Mortensen
Argentinean director Lisandro Alonso fuses Scandinavian and South American sensibilities in a spectacularly shot existential western which evokes both Ingmar Bergman and Alejandro Jodorowsky. The craggily handsome Viggo Mortensen makes for a compelling centre: a fading hero on a desperate quest. Jauja takes us on a ponderously paced but artistically sure journey; it's a film that finds strength in the universality of its ideas and its spiritual dimension, one that's enlivened by instantly iconic imagery and a keen sense of the strange.
Patagonia, 1882: a Danish engineer, Captain Gunnar Dinesen (Mortensen), and his 15-year-old daughter Ingeborg (Viilbjørk Malling Agger) find themselves out of their depth in an unfamiliar land. They're flanked by foreign soldiers, including Lieutenant Pittaluga (Adrián Fondari), a middle-aged man of unrefined masculinity who we first meet masturbating in a rock pool and who lets it be known that he has designs on young Inge. When Inge absconds with another man – a young soldier who's gone under Gunnar's radar – her father sets out to find her. Threats come from local tribesmen, and an unhinged army deserter about whom rumours are rife (including that he's leading a pack of thieves disguised as a woman), while the fate of his daughter plays heavy on Gunnar's mind.
Presented in the vintage 4:3 aspect ratio, the winner of Cannes 2014's FIPRESCI Prize is a triumphant marriage of grit and surrealism, which features stunning work from Finish cinematographer Timo Salminen (Le Havre). The tranquillity and beauty of the wilderness is set against humanity's base instincts and violent impulses. Jauja makes fine use of western tropes to communicate Gunnar's crisis, exploring the loneliness and futility of his quest, his fear of his fellow man, his inadequacies as a father, dark potential and ultimate mortality. It's heavy stuff alright but unforgettable and told with idiosyncrasy and humour.
Screening on Thu 26 Feb and Fri 27 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2015. Selected release from Fri 10 Apr.