Tuesday, January 17, 2012

DVD Review: Aurora

Aurora ****
Directed by: Cristi Puiu.
Written by: Cristi Puiu
Starring: Cristi Puiu (Viorel), Clara Voda (Gina Filip), Catrinel Dumitrescu (Mrs. Livinski), Luminita Gheorghiu (Mioara Avram), Valentin Popescu (Doru).

We have been trained by the movies to expect answers to everything – even the most complex of issues. If a movie raises a question, than it must answer it, it should never leave us as the audience in the dark. Cristi Puiu’s Aurora flies in the face of those expectations. Eventually, it will provide at least some cursory answers to what happened in the movie and why, but when they come, they are unsatisfying – and that’s the entire point. This is a movie about a man who kills four people, and yet provides no reason why until the last few minutes of it’s over three hour running time. To some, this will make Aurora the most frustrating movie of 2011. To me, it makes it the best foreign language film of the year.

Writer/director Cristi Puiu also has the lead role in Aurora. He plays a man named Viorel, who stalks the streets of Bucharest, looking angry. He lives alone in an apartment he says he is renovating, and yet he never seems to do any work on it. Instead, he has stripped the walls, and lives in the apartment which is pretty much bare. When people come over to remove some of the things, he gets angry – he wants to ensure that they do not take “his” stuff, and just the stuff he tells them they can. He goes out into the streets every day – we get the impression that he may well have recently lost his job, since he never goes to work, but we do see clean out his locker -  and what for most people would be minor annoyances really agitate him. As he waits for his leftovers in a restaurant to be wrapped for example, and stares down the woman who has told him to wait a minute, the look in his eyes is chilling. He’s sizing her up, and she doesn’t realize it.

We see Viorel do a lot of things – wait in a parking lot for a glimpse at a woman and her kids, buying a shotgun and testing it out. And finally, at around the half way point, we will see him go into a parking garage, assemble that shotgun and murder two people we have not seen before. Why does he do this? Who are these people? If you want to know, you have to wait until the end, and even then, you probably won’t be satisfied.

Aurora takes the crime movie and turns it on its head. Most of the time, when we see people murdered in the movies (and how many hundreds of those do we see a year), there is a specific motive for the crime – whether it’s personal vengeance, or anger, or profit, etc. There is a clear line between the murder itself and the motive. But Aurora is different, because the motive for the crimes is clear only to the warped protagonist. These are not random crimes, not a man who has snapped, and is killing without reason, nor is he a serial killer who kills for his own sexual gratification. He has a motive for the crime, but it’s one that only makes sense to him. How many crimes out like this do we hear about all the time?

But beyond a portrait of a warped individual, Aurora is a portrait of a city and a country that is damaged as well. It has been more than 20 years since the fall of Communism is Romania, more than 20 years since they got out from underneath their brutal dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, and yet the remnants of those days remain. This is the third of Puiu’s series of moral tales in post Communist Romania (following Stuff & Dough, which I missed and The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, about a man who is dying, and is shipped from hospital to hospital due to bureaucracy, until he dies, which is more convenient for everyone else). The point, I think, is to show that the fall of Communism, while important, can only change things so much. For Viorel, he was supposed to have it all – the good job, the wife and kids, but his wife has left him, taken the kids, and now he’s stuck in the rundown apartment, probably without a job. Have things really improved?

Puiu’s style is as deliberate as his pacing. His camera barely moves, and when it does, its mainly slow pans, which are used just to keep the characters in the frame. There is little in scene editing in the film, and Puiu is content to observe this man, and the city and country he lives in, and portray it as dark as it is. By the time you get to the end of Aurora, you may well be exhausted. Aurora is not an easy movie – but it is a great one.

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