Full disclosure: I fell asleep about twenty minutes into Jauja. This is not a reflection on the quality of the film. I was exhausted and had almost fallen asleep on the walk to the AGO. Since I missed an unknown portion of the film, I questioned the benefit of reviewing it since I was unsure of the importance of what I missed. However, what I did see made a major impression and continues to haunt me.
Shot on film stock in Patagonia using a square frame resembling an image from an old slide projector, the film tells the story of a 19th century Danish general searching for his lost daughter, but this is secondary to the images that director Lisandro Alonso creates. Jauja is a beautiful meditation of depth and space and colour, where the landscape is endless and figures are swallowed up by its vastness. Colours dominate people, separating them from their surroundings and hiding them from view. Important moments happen far from view and on the edges of the frame, as well as in the centre of the frame. The look is at once old fashioned–from the antiquated costumes and the family slideshow look of the frame and a thoroughly modern fantasy, with colours so vibrant they are not quite real–and a modern period coda that poses more questions than it answers.
It is about images. Perfectly realized moving paintings are what stick in my mind. The image of father and daughter sitting side by side, his back to the camera, her in a blue dress blurring her outline as she becomes one with the sky, the vast empty landscape behind them. The father exhausted and defeated lying under the stars, as the naturalistic soundscape gives way to the man-made sounds of the guitar. These are images that are works of art in their own right, independent of the narrative that surrounds them. As reality and fantasy blur, they become indistinguishable. The meaning is inconsequential. What matters is that they leave an indelible impression that can’t be shaken.