This isn’t a film that anyone can write a conventional piece on. It is such a unique experience that it should be treated as something more than cinema. This isn’t surprising as a poet (and mutual friend of Mortensen and Alonso) Fabian Casas wrote the twenty page script. I read the film has 60 different camera shots in total, which is not a lot. The camera very rarely moves at all. The 4:3 aspect ratio with slightly rounded edges looks incredible as it shows the affect one would get if playing old slides through a projector; appropriate, as the film is based in the 1800’s. This is one of the best looking movies I have seen without the use of CGI; the landscape is incredible to look at, with the colour-scheme obviously tinkered with to achieve maximum contrast between the sharp colours. Each shot lasts for so long that one can’t help but begin to admire the textures of the scenery. It is obvious that they have chosen each shot with great care. This efficient and minimalist visual style is entrancing as we follow Danish officer Gunnar Dinesen (Viggo) across the beautiful but tough and constantly changing terrain.
I love Mortensen’s attitude to acting, he could make big movies as he has in the past, but instead here he ‘jumps into the void’ with Lisandro Alonso, making a movie on a tight budget in Argentina, and from what I read, in less that comfy circumstances. More evidence of his dedication to his art shows in that he further added details and personality traits to his character before shooting, and then became that creation entirely. Is there a character Viggo cannot play? He has also been relentlessly promoting the film around the world, a film for which he almost certainly did not get paid well for, compared to other films he has worked on of course. But that is what makes Viggo so great. He is a true artist, and true artists do not care about dollar signs. He saw a project with potential and he jumped on the opportunity, finishing with this amazing experience. What could you label this as? A psychedelic, existential western? That is as close as I can get.
A man lives like a nomad, finding himself in Argentina with a Military outfit who are cleansing the area of the native populace, which is frighteningly revealed in a very nonchalant way. He brings his daughter wherever he goes, and when she disappears during the night with a younger man from the outfit, Gunnar immediately mounts his horse and spends the next 100 or so minutes on a search that is exhausting spiritually as much as it is physically. As his search becomes increasingly hopeless, events become increasingly surreal, eventually becoming a journey within himself and within the mythical realm of Juaja and the violent but omnipresent Zuluaga figure who looms over it.
Alonso positions us just so in every shot, pushing us and the perceived limitations of cinema to unseen heights. Each camera shot is its own entity, with action sometimes taking place outside the frame, other times watching endlessly as Gunnar gallops away towards the horizon and out of view entirely. Each shot then becomes its own entity, and as the length and fixed nature of the shots pervades further into the movie, anything entering the frame isn’t be surprising. This is what makes such a surreal film flow so seamlessly. We are not just taken but also intimately involved in a cinematic dreamworld where there are no rules or limitations, just imagination. This is a style of cinema that you don’t see often. It truly feels like a trip into a dream, no logical limitations involved.
I said this about Under The Skin, and the same applies here, if not more so: this is an art film, and it doesn’t try to be anything else. I suppose certain pretensions come along with that, which is fine, but to my eyes, this adheres to no existing structures or rules, putting us into a very surreal world where Gunnar’s sanity dwindles to a point where the film’s world is affected itself, including concepts such as time or reality. Its unlike anything I have ever seen, while the ending is reminiscent of 2001 in its dreamlike absurdity and countless possibilities. I need to watch this again.