“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
– Jorge Luis Borges
Where do we find our understandings, our beliefs in existence? The great undying landscapes, tundras, wildernesses? Or the soft vulgarity of the soul? Noise, or silence? The human face, beaten and sold or otherwise beautiful, or prairie, rock and shale? Well, here we have a movie that does not distinguish between the two spheres, and it is unrecognizable, as if everything felt by the human race, all dreams, experiences, fears and death-throes, were caught up, a spider in a glass, or released into the blueness of those Patagonian skies.
What is it that makes a life function and move forward?
Jauja is a Paradise, a land of plenty, another El Dorado for fanatical conquistadores. But this is no Wrath of God, though they share the same mirages of colonialism and barbarism, and both end in strange fantasies, possibly deluded. A man searches the Argentinian wastes for his daughter. There are rumours and strange tales of a revolutionary leader at large in the steppe (whispers of Conrad and Herzog again). Corpses keep emerging from the grasses, bloodied and moaning. The man loses his horse. So ends a physical journey, filled with the spoils of the body. But there are other kinds, ones of madness and unknowing, ones where bodies never end in cruel undoing, or at least can exist in more than one place. And so the search continues, but transcends the desert and physicality, transcends even the vast shakings of men and nations, and becomes something of the subconscious. The effect is shattering. It would ruin the flow and revelations of Jauja to tell you the particulars of this metaphysical journey, but Alonso has gone beyond many filmmakers, even great figures, in detailing the effects of empty spaces on the ideas of the mind.
The film is a polaroid, a snapshot taken at the fall of day. The frames have rounded corners, and a wonderful daguerrotype colour palette, somehow ancient and vibrant and yet murky, as if seen through a milk bottle. We are already in the realm of dreams, though we do not know it yet. Whereas Herzog’s nature is always malevolent, seeking death and obscenities, Alonso’s is simply unforgiving. People are lost. We try to glimpse them. Shots last a lifetime. We move through them, as do these characters, seen or unseen.
‘What a shit country,’ declares the searching father.
Is this a ghost story? It certainly inhabits a kind of shamanic territory, a tale told by grandmothers, perhaps. And like the best stories it ends in new beginnings. Like Lynch, there are certain passings and connections across impossible frontiers, and universes that exist, seemingly ignorant of each other. And there is a motherless girl, who wants a dog (or perhaps a father), one who will follow her diligently, and only her. Or she perhaps owns a dog, one that cries when she goes away, scratching at raw fur. A girl who vanishes amongst the pampas and becomes unspeakably aged, or awakens in sunlight, unsure if she has been dreaming or if somebody has been dreaming her.
Watch this and Gomes’ Tabu in a single evening and tell me that film is on its last legs.