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.
‘Two Days, One Night’
The Belgian neo-neo-neo-realists Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have spent two decades making austere, clear-eyed, quietly fuming studies of the working class, cranking out devastating and often times nearly interchangeable dramas the same way, say, a sushi maker makes fine sushi. (Much like the figure in the film below.) Beyond the particulars of their plots, there isn’t a ton of difference between “The Son” and “The Child,” and the only major artistic leap in their most recent film, “Two Days, One Night,” is the addition of a superstar in the lead. (Though “The Kid with a Bike” featured the well-known Cecille de France in a major role.)
RELATED: Our review of "Two Days, One Night"
Marion Cotillard scampers about as a factory worker who discovers she’s about to be made redundant. Her only hope is to convince her co-workers to vote to keep her on — even though retaining her service means they will lose their much-needed annual bonus. As she’s forced to desperately plead to her sometimes hostile comrades, feeling both humiliated and ashamed of asking people to surrender comforts, we’re forced to stew in the impossible situation in which she’s trapped. Each encounter brings forth a new moral dilemma, and Cotillard slips right into a world that’s as real as our own.
‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’
Food porn rarely gets more sadistic than in this celebrated and serene study of Jiro Ono, the octogenarian proprietor of one of the world’s most esteemed restaurants — a hole in the wall in a Tokyo subway station with a perpetual months-long wait. There’s gobs of loving shots of fish being lathered in oils and hands gently marrying salmon to rice, but it’s also a portrait of the chef as an artist, and the artist as an unpleasant crank whose genius, at least in Jiro’s case, is perhaps impossible to divorce from his sometimes cantankerous temperament. Though usually quiet and vaguely smiling, Jiro has a temper, and he doesn’t suffer fools gladly, or at all. He also doesn’t settle for anything less than the best, be it from fish or from his coworkers (and sometimes his clients). Director David Gelb — who, mysteriously, went on to direct the lame horror indie “The Lazarus Effect” — doesn’t shy away from exploring Jiro’s dark side even as he’s slobbering over food you’ll probably never eat.
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