Jauja, Open Air

Source: Cahiers du Cinema

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Comments from Timo Salminen

Lisandro Alonso's Jauja came to electrify the routine of the Cannes Film Festival by lighting, in a word, a surprising fire. Shot in 35 mm, essentially in the middle of the Argentine plains, with a few scenes in Patagonia and others in Denmark, Jauja sets up in long, fixed frames an original balance of natural light, artificial lighting and calibration. From the early morning on a rocky beach invaded by jade-colored algae under a brutally blue sky, to the night where Captain Dinesen (the character played by Viggo Mortensen, off alone in search of his daughter) lays down under the stars, the film works a constant intensity which passes through a quasi-saturation of certain colors (like those red pants that remain imprinted on one's retina) and an incredible depth of field. The yellowed plains stretch to the horizon, each blade of grass standing out under the natural light that fills the background while the detail of a face or a silhouette is sometimes slightly highlighted to the foreground by the clarity of a projector, as if another glimmer of light were travelling into this desert to caress the characters, to bring them to proximity from a mysterious reflection.

There is also something of the western, and a recollection of Technicolor, in this mix of saturations and depths. Timo Salminen, Jauja's chief cinematographer, tells how they saw the ghost of John Ford rising up from the film proofs, but that there was not at the beginning any precise reference. It is the first collaboration between Lisandro Alonso and Timo Salminen, who has a long career in other countries: for over thirty years (Le Syndrome du lac Saimaa, in 1981) he has been Aki Kaurismäki's faithful chief cinematographer. To go from the studios and very constructed lighting of the Finnish, with their graphic plays of shadows, to the pure outdoors of Jauja, was a true revelation for Salminen. "I had already filmed in Brazil, but I hadn't gone further to the south. However, I did as always a great deal of research: the web is overflowing with articles and images which give you a good idea of the intensities of the lights and colors of nature down there, in this season." He didn't want to work with natural light alone, nor with simple reflectors. "I always wanted a little bit of lighting to improve faces or silhouettes, to correct colors. I don't like working without projectors. But we didn't need a lot of them. We couldn't bring in very much electricity in the middle of the plains; the trucks with the large generators didn't pass on the roads. Afterward, we did some calibration for the colors, but everything was already pretty much there in the proofs."

After having waited six months following the shooting in Denmark for the arrival of the southern summer in Argentina, Salminen explains that they once again had to wait until winter in order to go to Patagonia. This part of the shoot is integrated in the two days of Dinesen's mission exactly like the Icelandic ending of Sokourov's Faust: a moment of cooling down and fog where the colors die out on their own, in a bewitching reversal of light which owes everything to a sort of climatic intelligence, making Jauja an open air fairy tale.

Comments collected by telephone, June 24.
Last edited: 26 August 2014 14:25:11
© Cahiers du Cinema.