With “The Lord of the Rings,” Viggo Mortensen went from respected character actor to god. It’s a position he’s used wisely. Rather than simply becoming a megastar in anonymous blockbusters, he likes to lend his name (and considerable acting prowess) to projects that interest him, not the world’s fanboys. “Jauja,” an Argentine mega-art film released earlier this year, is not for everyone, but for the adventurous moviegoer it’s catnip. Mortensen plays a Danish captain in the 1880s who gets seriously lost in the Argentine wild while searching for his daughter, who has run off with a rugged lieutenant. There’s little hope he’ll ever find her, or ever find his way back to civilization. But things turn even weirder, especially as the final stretch looms.
The director is Lisandro Alonso (“Liverpool,” “Los Muertos”), who’s firmly of the master shot/long-take school. Shooting in the box-shaped Academy ratio, he transforms landscapes into near-psychedelic realms of the mind; the colors of the landscapes often look fake, even though they’re not. Mortensen’s performance is largely physical, though his face increasingly betrays panic as he wanders too far afield, worrying that he may simply become just another schnook swallowed by the earth, forgotten by time. It takes repeat viewings to unlock some of “Jauja”’s more cryptic mysteries, but even as a straight-up neo-Western, concerning a man succumbing to the elements, it’s solid entertainment.