I first really noticed Jauja when, writing my first guidebook to Argentina in the early 1990s, I visited the alternative Andean community of El Bolsón and tasted some of the most exquisite ice cream ever. Though I had been to Peru, where there’s a city of that name, it never occurred to me that it meant anything more than a place name.
It’s still something of a puzzle to me, even after watching the Argentine director Lisandro Alonso’s film of the same name (trailer above) on Netflix. I had seen Alonso’s previous film “Liverpool” – a gritty realist effort set, despite the name, in Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city – but “Jauja” is something else entirely.
To start with, Alonso recruited a big name actor, Viggo Mortensen, as his leading man. That interested me partly because the Danish-American Mortensen shares something of my own Scandinavian heritage but also spent much of his youth in Argentina, where he learned to speak Spanish. Mortensen portrays Danish officer Gunnar Dinesen who, at least in this film, was part of the euphemistically titled “Conquest of the Desert” that displaced the indigenous peoples of what is now Argentine Patagonia in the 1880s.
Patagonia, of course, always attracts my attention, and I’m eager to see whether I recognize the location of any given film. The opening scenes take place in a coastal area where Dinesen and his companions are taking a breather from searching for a deserter who’s become a bandit, and his daughter runs off with a young soldier. It appears to be a western, perhaps resembling US director John Ford’s “The Searchers,” but there’s quite a twist at the end. It's worth stressing, however, that this is not an action movie.
As for the locations seen in the film, I couldn’t catch all the final credits, but one of them mentions the city of Viedma, whose coastline (pictured above) resembles some of the early scenes (including the sea lions along the shore). Alonso probably filmed Dinesen’s search through the mountains at Sierra de la Ventana (pictured below) in southern Buenos Aires province.
Meanwhile, I should point out the ostensible meaning of “jauja” in the Southern Cone - it’s something of a Garden of Eden metaphor, which is ironic in the context of this movie. It’s not, though, in the context of El Bolsón’s ice creamery, which now has branches in other Argentine cities, including my own Buenos Aires neighborhood of Palermo (pictured below).