Tag Archives: Cannes festival

Jauja: Interview with Viggo Mortensen


Format: Cinema

Release date: 10 April 2015

Distributor: Soda Pictures

Director: Lisandro Alonso

Writers: Fabian Casas, Lisandro Alonso

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Viilbjørk Mallin Agger, Ghita Nørby

Argentina, USA, Netherlands 2014

101 mins

With its painterly rendering of times past (aptly framed in a vintage 4:3 ratio), and reliance on the uniqueness of its characters instead of a dense script, Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja is an austere affair. Set in 1882, the sparse narrative follows a Danish army captain (Viggo Mortensen) on his journey through the desolate expanses of Patagonia in search of his eloped daughter (Mallin Agger). Few words are spoken as faces full of aspiration, anger and despair gaze out across the intensely beautiful landscape; a harsh, elusive landscape in a world that appears to be as magical as it is threatening. Elaborately choreographed, hauntingly scored and channelling the transcendental work of Jodorowsky, Tarkovsky and Kubrick, Jauja is very much a film that demands your attention from the outset, and pays dividends as it reaches its mysterious, otherworldly conclusion.

Pamela Jahn spoke with leading actor Viggo Mortensen, who also co-produced the film, at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2014, where Jauja premiered in the Un Certain Regard section.

Pamela Jahn: In addition to taking the lead in Jauja, you also acted as a producer and co-composed its original score. What made you want to get involved in the film on so many different levels?

Viggo Mortensen: On a purely personal level, the project seemed very appealing from the start, because I am doing a movie in Danish – finally. But I am also speaking Spanish with an accent like my father’s, whereas the Danish sounds more like my grandfather’s, more old-fashioned, which was fun. And those landscapes you see in the film, I know them from when I was a boy in Argentina. That’s where I learned to ride horses and so on, which was a bit strange but intriguing at the time, because it brought back lots of memories: the place, the smell, the landscape, the weather – all this was very familiar. But the real challenge was that I am playing a man who is in a place that feels very strange to him and he doesn’t like it very much. He’s looking forward to going back to Denmark soon, but then his daughter goes missing and he sets out to find her.

Did you know Lisandro Alonso’s work before you got on board?

I had seen all but one of his films before we started working together on this project, and the one film that I liked in particular was Los Muertos. There is something in that story in terms of the visual poetry and his use of time, the simplicity of his shot selection… all that reminded me of Tarkovsky’s movies, which I like a lot. Not just him, but it was that specific director that I thought of when I watched Lisandro’s films. And I really liked the idea that he initially proposed together with Fabian [Casas, screenwriter], which we then worked on together to get the Danish elements of it correct, and to make sure it’s specific. If you want something existential and universal too, you need to be specific and detailed, you need to give it weight. As an actor, the more specific you are, the more you can make a leap. And personally, I like to tell stories that at least have a chance to be really interesting movies, whether they are big budget or low budget. That doesn’t really matter to me, because the relationship with the camera, with the director and the crew is always the same. It’s the same job to prepare, the same job to shoot, it takes the same time and, in the end, you have to promote it, so you might as well do something you like. Something you want to go see in the cinema yourself. That’s more or less how I guide myself: I am looking for projects that I can still learn from and that I might want to see myself. It doesn’t always work, of course, but at least you have a good blueprint.

You mentioned the landscape, which looks somewhat artificial but breathtakingly beautiful at the same time. Did you get involved in the ‘look’ of the film, too?

I am a photographer myself and I could see that we were using certain lights that we didn’t need to use, but that was Lisandro’s idea, because he wanted to shoot it in this old-school, artificial way, almost like they did in old Westerns. There is something really appealing about that. But what I liked about it the most was that [the cinematographer] Timo Salminen, who is originally from Finland and had never been to Argentina, had more of a Nordic look at the landscape, which fits in well with the characters – it’s very different to the way an Argentine photographer would have shot it. But it’s not just the lighting, it’s the framing also. So you have two different angles, really: the look is sometimes hard and strange, which could be the father’s point of view, who never really accepts being in this landscape; for him it’s just a job and he regrets even being there. But it’s also at times incredibly beautiful, and that’s more like the daughter’s point of view, because she loves it there.

How did you approach your character? Who is Gunnar Dinesen and what is he to you?

There are things in the film that I suggested we should do when I was reading the book. I am someone who, until recently, has lived in the woods and who is very happy being and living in wild places. Part of the reason why I was comfortable doing this movie with Lisandro was because there were certain elements, even from a different character’s point of view, that I am familiar with, although my character is actually quite clumsy. Dinesen is a surveyor and scientist, very northern European, very rational, everything has to have a logical explanation. But then he is also a guy who wears a sword and boots with heels and furs while walking through rocks, which is ridiculous – a bit like Don Quixote. Don Quixote is also both serious and specific. And in that way my character is very determined – like if you are going to do a job, you might as well do it correctly, and in a timely fashion. And if someone says, ‘Well, we’re having tea at 4.30pm on Tuesday’, you say, ‘Well, I’ll be there’. But it’s Argentina, so whoever you were going to meet might turn up on Wednesday, or maybe he doesn’t.

The film has a very dreamy feel to it, much like a mind’s landscape, a travel through space and time.

Exactly, and that’s the beauty about it. Lisandro makes these leaps, which most directors would not be able to make, but he makes you feel that they are organic. Suddenly it’s dark, suddenly there is an electric guitar, suddenly there is a cave… and somehow he makes that work, he makes you believe it because he grounds it in details, in real behaviour. Like my character, who is always trying to find a logic within everything. His evolution lies in the very fact that, by the end of the film, he is asking that question: ‘What makes a life function and move forward?’ And he says: ‘I don’t know’, and smiles. He accepts that he cannot control it. It’s almost a relief for him to realise that you cannot understand everything. And at the end of this movie, it’s the same for you. You don’t know if it was all just a dream, and if so, whose dream? The dream of a young girl in Denmark today? Or, the dream of some strange captain? Or, it could be very much the dream of a dog or of a wooden soldier. But luckily, it doesn’t matter.

What’s your guess? Whose dream is it for you?

Often I tend to think that it’s the girl’s dream, but I don’t know. And again, it doesn’t matter. If you pick one option, then you are stuck in a linear thinking, just like Dinesen. So even though I lean towards that, next time I watch the film, it’s different and it makes me smile. It’s a rare movie in the sense that it reveals more layers, more humour every time you look at it. For example, Dinesen is a spectator, he is constantly trying to make sense of what the hell is going on. He’s not really in love with the landscape, he’s just practical. And he gets lost, so by the end, he doesn’t know what else to do, he just keeps going. But is he still looking for his daughter? Probably. Whatever it is, he keeps looking.

But he finds ‘Jauja’.

And that’s interesting because Jauja is not a place, it’s more than that, it’s an idea. It’s an impossible idea or feeling of contentment, satisfaction, tranquillity. It could be anything and, trust me, in Spanish it’s a weird word too. It’s a word that comes from the Arabic and in the old Arabic it meant something like a doorway or a passageway, like a transition.

That idea of transition is also intensified by the music, which is very peculiar. How did you get involved with the score?

If you know Lisandro, you know that he doesn’t usually use music in his films, but suddenly you hear this electric guitar and organs and piano notes and you are like, wow. But it’s not like, wow, that’s wrong – it’s great. It’s another one of these jumps he takes, but it comes from an organic, sincere place that’s not saying ‘look at me’ as a director. It’s not pretentious. He said to me: ‘I want this transition, where one time in space is going to start twisting things a bit for the character and for the audience. And I think I want to try and use music in that moment when you go to sleep that night under the stars, so if you have any ideas then let me know’.’ And I said: ‘Well, there is that guitar player I know who I have also worked with. Some of it is very harsh but some of it is more lyrical.’ So I sent him some pieces and he chose those two, which you hear in the film. And that moment of music works really well, I think, because of the way it pushes you into another space.
Do you think your involvement as a producer and actor will help the film find a bigger audience?

I hope so. I do think it is a big jump for Lisandro creatively, in terms of narrative through line, and photography – on a lot of levels. It’s a more sophisticated type of filmmaking. I did it because I liked it, but the reason why I got involved as a producer is because I wanted to help him get a bigger audience because he really deserves it.

Interview by Pamela Jahn

This interview is part of our LFF 2014 coverage.

Watch the trailer:

Cannes 2014

Lost River
Lost River

Cannes International Film Festival

14 – 25 May 2013

Cannes, France

Cannes Festival website

There is no better place than Cannes to be reminded of the differences in taste and perspective between oneself and the rest of the critics’ world. But this year, the fierce reviews that Lost River, Ryan Gosling’s first foray into directing, received after its premiere in the Un Certain Regard section, made me wonder what was actually at stake here. Judging from the 10-minute-long standing ovations for one of Hollywood’s biggest heartthrobs before and after the screening it was clear that it didn’t have anything to do with a waning of his celebrity power – in fact, it didn’t really matter to the majority of the audience what film was on show that night as long as Gosling was in the room. Looking at it more closely, his fairly impressive directing debut seems to have fallen victim to the same fate as Nicholas Winding Refn’s brilliant Only God Forgives (starring Gosling in the lead role and clearly serving as an inspiration for his own surrealist end-time tale) the year before: most critics didn’t know (or didn’t care) what to make of its alluring blend of affecting visual beauty and sparse (if, in Gosling’s case, slightly messy) narrative, and the few who loved it at first sight were instantly stared at with incredulity.

Watch the trailer for Lost River:

All in all though, there weren’t as many exciting films on offer as last year, despite some terrific surprises. In particular, Xavier Dolan’s Mommy (his fifth feature film since his 2009 directorial debut I Killed My Mother) yielded beautifully raw emotions, caustic humour and moments of cinematic brilliance. And outlandish Argentine competition entry Wild Tales, by Damián Szifró;n, was a popular, hard-hitting and often hilarious portmanteau comedy featuring a bunch of diverse and increasingly hysterical characters who spectacularly lose control and go off the deep end.

Resembling last year’s mad dash for the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, the biggest buzz this time revolved around David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars. A highly charged, cynical ghost story about today’s fucked-up Hollywood society, it stars Mia Wasikowska as the troubled daughter of a self-help guru who is battling her internal demons while working as a PA to a fading yet feisty actress (Julianne Moore).

Atom Egoyan’s cliché-ridden The Captive was the weakest competition entry for me, It faced strong competition from Olivier Assayas’s pretentious The Clouds of Sils Maria and from The Search, Michel Hazanavicius’s clumsy follow-up to The Artist, a muddled and sentimental war drama about a human rights worker who takes in a young Chechen refugee during the war in 1999. I also didn’t enjoy Asia Argento’s Un Certain Regard entry Incompresa for all its cockeyed quirkiness, although nothing could have topped the critics’ complete and unanimous disapproval of Olivier Dahan’s opening film Grace of Monaco.

But there was some noteworthy (if unsurprisingly rather heavyweight) art-house fare on show in the Competition this year. Nuri Bilge Ceylan impressed jury and critics alike with his three-hour-plus Chekhovian drama Winter Sleep about a wealthy, retired actor who runs a mountaintop hotel and fills his days with writing and dealing with his failing marriage. Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev draws more decisively on Tarkovsky’s inheritance in the poetic imagery and the gravity of his slow-paced, powerful and elusive thriller-drama Leviathan.

The usually slightly neglected midnight screenings were strong this year with David Michôd’s The Rover, his superb follow-up to Animal Kingdom (2010), and Kristian Levring’s conventionally plotted but deftly crafted Danish Western The Salvation. The third film screening at midnight was Chang’s rather predictable and slightly dull thriller The Target, which fell short of expectations but still managed to deliver the fun, big-screen action spectacle it was intended to be. In comparison, and more convincing in its mission to prove that the crafty and clever Korean crime thriller is not dead, was Kim Seong-hun’s A Hard Day.

Watch the trailer for The Rover:

Apart fom Lost River, the other standouts in the Un Certain Regard selection included Argentine director Lisandro Alonso’s unwieldy and progressively surreal drama Jauja and the only German festival entry, Amour Fou, Jessica Hausner’s rigidly stylised but original and witty portrait of the troubled Romantic writer and poet Heinrich von Kleist and his accomplice Henriette Vogel in the lead-up to their joint suicide in 1811. Typically, this year’s crowd-pleasing Un Certain Regard winner, Kornél Mundruczó;’s White God , split the critics once again: some saw it as clumsy and misguided social commentary, while others reacted warmly to the remarkable acting range of the dogs starring in the film.

On the whole, even with (or perhaps because of) the wide diversity in the reception of the films and a little less hype about the programme, these highlights prove once more that Cannes remains a great hunting ground for the weird, wild and unexpected.

Check out our previous Cannes coverage.

Festival report by Pamela Jahn

Cannes 2012 – Part 1: Italian realities, American dreams


65th Cannes Film Festival

16-27 May 2011, Cannes, France

Cannes Festival website

Welcome to a strange society: a world rigidly segregated where the population identifies themselves via a visible colour code: yellow, blue, white and red. Some have whispered that it is possible after the correct genuflections to the appropriate authorities to move from yellow to blue but the whispers are met with frank disbelief and no one would ever claim to move from yellow to red, and certainly not white. At the top of the hierarchy, the elite require no such colour coding; they are kept apart, protected, ushered from one place to the next, gawped at, worshipped, glimpsed, but occasionally exposed to the foulest abuse.

Welcome to Cannes: a miniature ten-day world, with its own police force, rules, protocol and gods. It is an alternate reality and through its various portals, the theatres Lumière and Debussy, Buñuel and Bazin, as well as the zombie, kung fu and soft porn infested market underworld, we go to our other realities.

Matteo Garrone’s Reality is an apt starting point. Badly misrepresented as a comedy, or worst still a satire, Garrone’s film is actually a Neapolitan slice-of-life drama, a mash of Visconti’s neo-realistic social concern wedded to a Fellini-esque portrait of an Italy of cheerful artifice and familiar and familial performance. Luciano (Aniello Arena) is a man on the make, who between illegal scams and his fishmonger’s stall has provided his family with some measure of security. However, when he reluctantly agrees to audition for Big Brother the lure of easy celebrity proves gradually corrosive, not only to everything he holds dear but his own sanity. The tackiness of reality television is only passingly attacked, taken as a given as in the vacuity of Enzo, a former house mate and local celebrity, with his luridly insincere English catchphrases. Garrone’s project is actually more subtle and ambitious than that. His target is a society that has been prepared by centuries of sanctified credulousness and the hypocrisy of the ‘bella figura’ (the cool Italian version of ‘keeping up appearances’), and consequently made ripe for amoral exploitation by Endemol and its ilk.

If Garrone’s film is ultimately a pessimistic portrayal of how an individual can be crushed by an oppressively realised alternate reality, Behn Zeitlin’s ecstatic debut Beasts of the Southern Wild is a paean to irresponsible freedom and youth; a childhood of slinging fireworks about and setting things on fire; an adventure that should end in tears, except for a brisk optimism and a tough-minded resolution not to shed a single one, goddammit. Hushpuppy lives with her daddy, in the Bathtub – a cross between skid row and a hippy commune located below the flood line in Louisiana. Physically, socially and geographically marginalised, the inhabitants of the Bathtub are heroic in their insistence on their freedom and way of life. This is the authentic Huckleberry Finn version of American freedom that would see the wheezy, flatulent Tea Party poseurs run a mile if they ever caught sight of it. The world is falling to pieces though, and ancient beasts are awakening. A storm is coming and, with her daddy ailing, Hushpuppy must prove herself.

Another version of American freedom came with the big Hollywood entries into the Official Competition. On the Road was a worthy, well-made, beautifully crafted, handsome yawn. It takes Jack Kerouac’s source novel unjustifiably seriously, its whole point being the writing of On the Road, which gives the whole project an overbearing air of self-congratulation while neglecting the question: if that was the point of the film, what was the point of the book? Was it so Walter Salles could make this film? Everyone is too handsome or pretty; the intellectuals wear glasses, funerals are held in the rain, books are placed with their covers in view as if the film is trying to impress us on a first date with the fact it reads Proust. Ultimately, Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) just becomes John Boy Walton, intoning chunks of his own novel as an older and wiser man over a lovingly produced Merchant Ivory reconstruction of an imaginary era.

The anti-road movie was given by David Cronenberg’s gridlocked Cosmopolis. Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a billionaire financial trader who sets out on a journey by limousine across New York’s traffic-strangled streets in order to get himself a haircut. Of course, this is not a journey so much as an odyssey into the dark heart of the American dream. Taken from possibly Don DeLillo’s worst novel, the politics seem outdated rather than topical. The protest movement comes from central casting; the gobs of social commentary is smugly convoluted and blankly intoned and the secret admiration for Packer, who resembles nothing more than Patrick Bateman’s weedier brother, feels (like much of the film) to have more to do with the 80s than the present crisis.

Cosmopolis is released in UK cinemas on 15 June 2012 by Entertainment One

A much tighter criticism of the USA as a capitalist sink hole came with Andrew Dominik’s self-consciously un-epic genre piece Killing Them Softly. The crime drama tells a well-rehearsed tale of the knocking over of a mob-run card game and the consequences that follow. The story is familiar. In fact, Cogan (Brad Pitt), the enforcer called in by the mob, is so familiar with it that he gives us a pretty accurate précis of what’s going to happen before it even gets going. The interest is in the brilliantly played ensemble who create an underworld reality of criminals and their own rules. There might be changes, crises, murder even, but in opposition to Cronenberg’s infantile lusting for the apocalypse, Dominik is as clear-eyed as Cogan in seeing all this as no more than business as usual.

Other self-sustaining realities came in the shape of the Romanian religious community that featured in Christian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills and the dilemmas of Byelorussian partisans in the fascinating In the Fog, directed by Sergei Loznitsa. Both films indulge in long takes, a creeping pace and an acting style that could be kindly described as naturalistic or could perhaps more accurately be called monotonous, but whereas Loznitsa’s film gains a hypnotic power from these choices, Mungiu’s manages only to replicate the stultifying oppressiveness of the community he portrays.

Stylistically similar, but to far stronger effect, was the winner of Un Certain Regard, After Lucia, directed by Michel Franco. Set in Mexico, the film tells the story of Alejandra (Tessa la Gonzales), a 15- year-old girl who has moved to a new town with her father following the death of her mother in a car accident. At first things go well: she is welcomed to the school and makes friends with a bunch of rich kids, but following a drunken tryst she finds herself the target of her class for all sorts of abuse. The film is an unrelenting and often harrowing depiction of the psychopathology of bullying. The cruelty of adolescents has rarely been so effectively captured. The reality of the school and her peers is entirely separate from the glibly indifferent school authorities and her affectionate father, who is overwhelmed by his grief. Alejandra’s isolation is complete and as her ordeal worsens, the film becomes necessarily difficult to watch, but there is nothing here that we won’t recognise as a more extreme version of something we ourselves experienced or committed not that long ago.

The worst film of the festival was the arrogantly stupid Confessions of a Child of the Century. Directed by the previously talented Sylvie Verheyde, this period drama with no feel for its period is destroyed from within by a central performance by Peter Doherty as Octave, the libertine who falls in love and then becomes obsessively jealous and so on. Doherty is so bad you’d feel sorry for him if he wasn’t Peter Doherty: not only can’t he deliver the lines with any sense of conviction, he can’t even wear a hat convincingly. The routinely awful Charlotte Gainsbourg as Brigitte, the object of his affections, actually seems quite good by comparison. And what is it about period films that they are now so fascinated with the weather?
Incidentally, the weather at Cannes this year was the worst in 15 years.

John Bleasdale