We speak in Cannes with Viggo Mortensen about Jauja, his second Argentinian experience
By I. J. - translated by Ollie and Zoe
21 May 2014
Viggo Mortensen is the leading actor of Jauja, the film by the Argentine Lisandro Alonso, co-produced by Mexico, presented in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Festival. Tired but happy about this second consecutive collaboration with a filmmaker from the country where he spent part of his youth, the unforgettable protagonist of The Lord of the Rings spoke with NOTICINE.com about his interest in auteur cinema and characters as complicated as the Danish Captain Gunnar Dinesen (Mortensen,) whose mission with the southern military in Patagonia, is to "pacify" the region by basically murdering its native settlers.
What is Jauja about and what is your character like?
Well, it's complicated to try to say what Jauja is about but basically we're at the end of the 19th century in Patagonia in the middle of supposedly nowhere in Argentina, but let's say, on the frontier during a brutal genocidal war against the native people undertaken by the Argentine government in that era in what is called "The Conquest of the Desert." I play the role of a Danish military man who comes from Europe with his 15 year old adolescent daughter and gets a job with the Argentine army on the frontier, a place in which there are only men, no women, and like all fathers, I am the last man to realize that my little girl, my sweet little girl, is becoming a woman and is attracting attention there. So from the beginning I'm very worried, because I realize that this is not a suitable place, and what´s worse, when the moment arrives where I say, "Don´t worry, we´ll soon return to Denmark; this is a crazy place," she answers me "No, I love being here, I love the desert, how it enters into me." "What do you mean it enters into you? I don´t want anything entering into you," and well, she likes the place so much that she falls in love with a young soldier, and they run away during the night. They escape, they go to the mountains, to the desert, and I wake up and look in my tent, and realize what's happened, I take my horse and put on my Danish uniform, and it´s a "quixotic" thing, like Don Quixote going out there European style with his little medals and his sabre, but he does things the correct way, like a guy from the north of Europe, in contrast with the Argentines who are...different. For example, the Argentines are not so punctual, as orderly in their thinking as this guy who goes out in search of his daughter and her boyfriend, and, basically, there´s the story, but there are some beautiful philosophical and existential leaps from there. It´s a risky film and very, very beautiful.
In the film, you don't speak in English, which is your usual language, but rather in Danish with your daughter and in Spanish with a Danish accent with the rest. It's not the first time that you've used another language. Does it complicate life for you?
It's happened many times. It's not always the case, but this time I've made a film speaking in Danish, which I know from my family and because I grew up a little there in Denmark and the Spanish in the film is quite amusing, at least for me, because it's with my father's accent, how he speaks Spanish. So trying to imitate that and getting everything to work was a lot of fun. Later, the Danish that I spoke with my daughter in the film, being quite a simple man, a man from the countryside of Denmark, I chose to speak it like my Danish grandfather who was a guy from the country, intelligent, but who had quite a simple and formal way of speaking, in a very correct way. All of that was a lot of fun and later, on the other hand, we filmed in the same landscapes where I'd been in my Argentine childhood, where I learned to ride a horse and now, in the film, I was again on horseback and speaking like my father and my grandfather... It was a very strange thing on a personal level, apart from the film being an extremely interesting story.
It's your second film in Argentina and earlier you made others in Spain. Are you attracted to Latin American cinema?
I've made five movies speaking Spanish: Alatriste, Gimlet and Ray Loriga's La pistola de mi hermano in Spain and two in Argentina, and this is the first Danish one, too. This film is as Danish as [it is] Spanish which is very difficult to achieve; it's very divided, culturally, by language, by sensibility, by cinematography. The cinematographer is a genius from the north, a Finlander named Timo Salminen, and his view of the landscape of Patagonia and the Argentine desert is very different from that which a Latin American would have.
Apart from soccer, what makes you feel close to the soul of Argentina?
A lot, the way of speaking, things that can't be described, a feeling and a sensibility. There are all kinds of things. It's like saying that the Mexicans or North American or Argentines are a certain way, but there are all sorts [of people] in that country. It's true that my being raised in Argentina, in my first decade, or in the first decade of any person, is very important for things like language, smells, memories. I feel this in many places, like I grew up also in Denmark and understand the mentality and it helped me a lot in this. Above all, it helps you as an actor and producer to transmit the translations, the behavior of the characters, helping Lisandro. I feel like I'm from many parts of the world but every time I return to Argentina, I'm at home, that's all.
How have you felt about the reception of the film in Cannes?
Very happy, and for having made it, too. It really has a good story, it has true power, it´s the kind of film I´d like to see... You know, shooting with Alonso and doing everything together, you feel fortunate, and now we can show it here in Cannes, one of the best festivals. I hope that you can see Jauja in a cinema. Don´t be afraid of the word Jauja; it´s very strange in Spanish. It´s of Arabic origin, and if you don´t speak Spanish very well or you are a gringo, you can say "Hauha"…
Last edited: 9 August 2014 08:59:56