“Jauja” teeters daringly on the line between surreal imagination and pompous poppycock. By its end poppycock has won the battle.
Not that the film is in any hurry to get to that end. Writer-director Lisandro Alonso loves to linger with his camera, staying put as characters disappear into a landscape or eventually wander into a frame. As a result, it takes a while for what will eventually be “the story” to show up.
That story: A Danish engineer, Gunnar Dinesen (Viggo Mortensen), is working on an unspecified project in an unspecified desert, to which he has dragged along his teenage daughter, Ingeborg (Viilbjørk Malling Agger). Bored for obvious reasons, Ingeborg — after a half hours’ worth of lingering, useless scenes — runs away in the night with a good-looking native soldier.
Upon discovering this, Gunnar rides off to look for her. Complicating matters, a murderous renegade officer seems to be wandering about, as well as assorted unfriendly local tribesmen.
So it’s a Western, right? Brave daddy goes in search of his innocent schoolgirl, over hill and rocky way, across parched land, etc., atop his steed and brandishing sword and rifle. He’ll save sweet Nell, er, Ingeborg.
Except he doesn’t. He just endlessly rides and drinks from streams, stopping now and then at the discovery of a corpse. When he finally does discover some action, it leads to more wandering, at which point he comes upon a lost, wounded dog. When he follows the dog he ends up in a world of utter nonsense.
Thus does a slow-moving Western become a surreal study of — what? Alonso teases along a classic if tedious search story and then just abandons the viewer to metaphysical mush, which he follows with an inexplicable coda. Deep? No, pretentious poppycock.
Running time: 109 minutes
At the Detroit Film Theatre