The script for Lisandro Alsonso’s latest film Jauja is reportedly only 20 pages long. Though I haven’t actually read it, that short length wouldn’t surprise me after last night’s NYFF screening. Starring Viggo Mortensen as a Danish military man stranded in a nameless South American desert, Jauja certainly isn’t your typical Main Slate festival offering. If anything, the film walks the tightrope between historical epic and surreal experiment, providing plenty of opportunity for reflection along the way. Unfortunately, the fact that the spaces in which we might take time for reflection vastly outweigh the moments that actually demand interpretation proves to be Jauja‘s downfall.
The film opens with a beautiful shot of Viggo’s Captain Dinesen sitting with his daughter, Ingeborg, and right away we get a taste of Alonso’s directorial style without so much as a hint of what may betide these characters. Mortensen, the only recognizable face in Jauja (or in any of Alonso’s films), is facing away from the camera for the entirety of the motionless opening shot. That’s essentially Jauja in a nutshell: the landscape, the framing, the aesthetic, the emotion generated by the imagery alone – all of this is much more important than the actors, or the characters they play, or the “plot” they partake in.
And make no mistake: Jauja, visually, is stunning. Every shot is carefully composed and lit, and the locations chosen provide Alonso’s camera with enough lush detail for consumption. Many shots seem to stretch on forever, and where most directors would probably work to keep the foreground characters in focus by blurring the backdrop, the reverse is true here. Rocks and clouds and figures far in the distance are as clear as the whiskers on Viggo’s face. Jauja‘s color palate is equally agreeable, and the blue dresses and bright red pants are captured beautifully aside the damp mossy terrain that makes up so much of the film. In this sense, we should admit, the narrative matters less and less.
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Gone Girl had a lot to live up to in the David Fincher oeuvre. I may be alone in saying that nothing in his filmography of the past few years has totally astounded me; The Social Network and Zodiac – well acted and beautifully filmed though they were – just didn’t have enough plot to hold me for the entire runtime, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo had more than a few other problems. That said, there’s little doubt that Fincher is still to be considered among the few American masters of filmmaking. Not only does Gone Girl provide more proof of that, but it’s also a film with a much stronger plot than the aforementioned dramas.
Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, husband of Rosamund Pike’s Amy Dunne, who is forced to deal with the events following her sudden disappearance on their fifth anniversary. These events include police interrogations, candlelight vigils and family consolations – but the most jarring presence is the frenzy of media coverage that descends upon Nick’s life. As the first half of Gone Girl progresses, Nick’s behavior seems more and more suspicious, and even though we’ve been following his story since the very moment of his discovery of Amy’s disappearance, Nick still seems more and more guilty.
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The New York Film Festival opened last week with David Fincher’s Gone Girl and continues until the New York premiere of Birdman to close the festival. In between those films fall a massive spectrum of features, short films, documentaries and retrospective screenings that include entries from some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry.
Whiplash isn’t one of those big huge premieres held up by the strength of name recognition and pre-release buzz. Technically the NYFF screening wasn’t even a premiere at all, as Whiplash first popped up at Sundance last winter. But if any “small” flick can surge through festivals like this and have a strong opening later this month, it’s this one. Less tangentially: Whiplash is one of the leanest and most intense films you’re likely to see this year.
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