Lisandro Alonso and Viggo Mortenson of "Jauja" at the New York Film Festival
The film Jauja is in some ways a microcosm of star Viggo Mortenson’s life. The American actor heavily identifies with his Danish ancestry, and he spent many of his childhood years living in Argentina where Jauja is set. Argentina is also the country that director Lisandro Alonso calls home, and a mutual acquaintance with Fabian Casas, an Argentinian poet and Jauja’s co-writer, brought Alonso and Mortenson together to make this film. In our Indiezone.TV red carpet interviews and the film’s press conference at the 52nd New York Film Festival, Mortenson’s respect for Alonso’s singular style shines through, as well as Alonso’s love of using landscape to tell his wide-reaching stories.
Alonso’s fifth feature, Jauja is a period piece set in the Argentina of the 1870s, when European military advisors helped the newly free Argentinian forces build their defenses against the indigenous people of that region. Mortenson plays the main role of Dutch military engineer Gunnar Dinesen who finds himself traversing a land he doesn’t understand in search of a daughter who perhaps understands it more than he’d like. But as the film nears its end, the “tone shifts into a realm of unreality that lays the groundwork for a crossover into another dimension, one that will materialize at the end as a counterbalance to the frontier world, and ends up giving Jauja its unique shape.” Those are the words of Film Comment’s Quintin, who provides an excellent reading of Alonso’s work in the article, “Into the Unknown,” available here.
Jauja is Lisandro Alonso’s second film to compete in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film festival, where it took the FIPRESCI prize. His first was La Libertad (2001), which gained him acclaim and the attention of an international audience. Mortenson certainly agrees that the young filmmaker deserves it. In this clip from the press conference, he describes for the audience just what makes Alonso’s style so memorable—it’s incomparability to other films.
As a veteran actor, Mortenson knows what he’s talking about in terms of the lack of true originality in filmmaking, and he believes Alonso possesses that quality in spades. He credits Alonso’s directness with engendering his particular filmic vision. Mortenson also describes Jauja’s place within Alonso’s body of work. Balancing a Danish and Argentinian perspective at the same time is feat that Mortenson calls “a neat trick” with obvious admiration.
Mortenson elaborates on the Danish sensibilities in response to an audience question. It involves a lot of laughter coming from the Danish-heavy front row at Jauja’s world premiere and an explanation of the Don Quixote-esque nature of the character Mortenson portrays.
Mortenson also explains how Alonso’s attention to detail registers with Danish audiences as does the historical perspective they share on genocidal actions undertaken by colonist forces at that time. But for Alonso, the particular history Jauja takes place within arose out of his need to use the particular landscape that inspired him to make the film rather than vice versa.
Mortenson delves into how that landscape becomes a metaphor in the film, elevating its appeal to a global audience. Alonso has a special gift for using specificity to amplify the universality of his works.
Indeed, Alonso believes his lack of focus on the historic conflict gives the film an element of impreciseness, which makes it broader in appeal and intent. Focusing on a Danish military man rather than an expected English one also allowed him to subvert the immediate associations an Argentinian audience would draw from their national past.
During our red carpet interview, Alonso shares how world travel and living in the wilderness helped him hone his ability to make films with that wider reach rather than risk them being categorized as regional work or him as a regional filmmaker. And he jokes about not learning much about Danish sensibilities from working with Mortenson and the film’s production team.
Alonso also tells us about his next production, the project he’s working on currently as this year’s Filmmaker in Residence, a grant program sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Jaeger LeCoultre. Thus far, Alonso has found the culture in NYC for moviemaking to be fantastic, but the commercial side of the industry is less desirable.
With a film full of sweeping vistas that speak to its director so clearly, Finnish director of photography Timo Salminen is one of Jauja’s biggest assets. During the press conference, Alonso details how Salminen’s techniques added to the film. Mortenson chimes in, describing Salminen’s devotion to searching for the right lighting and weather to help create a meditative mood in a country he was unfamiliar with.
Alonso describes how the film’s main aspect ratio of 1:85:1 contributed to their goal of using landscape to create that mood, and he digs into the technical reasoning behind why much of the film also was shot and reframed using a 1:33:1 ratio. Both an increased isolation and a Wild West visage were the result.
Finally, Mortenson has a bit of fun on the red carpet instructing our host in the proper pronunciation of Jauja—that’s “How Ha” for anyone wondering. Plus, he shares how he and Alonso came to work together through their mutual appreciation of Fabian Casas’s work and just what made Jauja such a compelling film for him to take part in.