Sometimes a challenging film can be more rewarding.
Many films with a slower pace attract audiences and critics through their rich atmosphere, beautiful cinematography, and allowing actors to express a full range of powerful emotions with subtlety and longevity. The slow build can also make a finale scene feel more climactic, like a spaceship gearing to take off. However, making slower-paced films is risky because you will be testing your audiences’ patience. While some audiences will inevitably prefer conventionally-paced films, if your audience sits through your slow movie and nothing happens, they will be bored and frustrated. Every frame in a slow-paced film needs to communicate more beyond just visuals or performances; it needs to reflect a mindset and an actual idea. Jauja is a film that handles its slow pace successfully.
Jauja is a Danish Western about Captain Dinesen (Viggo Mortensen), as he searches for his daughter through the deserts of Denmark after she ran off with a young soldier. Right off the bat, the film is breathtaking in a reminiscent type of way. It’s shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio but with curved corners, making the film look like a series of photographs or a slideshow. The photograph-like cinematography reflects a story being recounted to us, adding a level of intimacy to the already personal film. Director, Lisandro Alonso, makes beautiful usage of the Denmark desert landscapes to capture nature and communicate Dinesen’s emotional journey. The colors pop, the mist is enveloping, and every sound, footstep, and breath of wind enfolds you in the desert, feeling both its beauty and the harshness.
Alonso’s commitment to visual storytelling, while strong, can also be its biggest drawback. He expects the audience to feel everything Captain Dinesen experiences in the desert, not just the powerful but also the mundane. He paints a complete picture that makes the film immersive, but some mundane slower moments feel unnecessary and tiring. For as authentic as the experience feels, audiences may have a tough time following through the slower-paced moments. While most of these slower moments work, especially ones with Viggo Mortensen, carried by his subtle emotional performance, others feel unnecessary and tough to sit through. It’s a challenging film in this respect, but with genuine artistry that kept me going. By the end of the film, I’d say the journey was worth it.
Much like Captain Dinesen’s journey through the desert, this is a tough but worthwhile film. I definitely can understand if the slow pacing turns people off; it asks a lot of its audience, but only because it has a lot to offer. If you allow yourself to go along for the ride, you will come out satisfied, maybe even feeling stronger.
Jauja will be playing on MUBI on July 10th as part of their Cannes Takeover series.