Wednesday, December 01, 2010
The Aura (El Aura) is Bielinsky's second feature. Two will be all we'll have from him, because he died this year of a heart attack at forty-six. The first is Nine Queens, which is rather famous and suffered an American remake. Nine Queens is an exceptionally inventive teaser and puzzler about con games. The Aura is a teaser and puzzler too, but a moodier noir, focused on a 'existential" loser hero (like Meursault in Camus' Stranger), with a slower pace and a more beautiful look. It meanders and winds up more or less where it started – plus a shaggy dog. Maybe it goes on too long, but Bielinsky has used the noir format – a heist, actually several, that go wrong; a naive man who falls in with dangerous company – to develop a rich and mysterious character who's got all the ambitions and defects of the noir hero, and then some. No one respects him and his larcenous ambitions are absurd, but when things get going he holds his own against some pretty rough characters. He goes through many emotions, while remaining fascinatingly unreadable and strange.
This unnamed hero (the exceptional Ricardo Darin, who also starred in Nine Queens), a taxidermist in Buenos Aires with epilepsy, first appears on the floor in front of an ATM machine after a seizure. He gets up and pushes the button and the cash comes out—his life is like that. Next, he's in his workshop assembling a fox. While he's delivering it to a museum he meets Sontag (Alejandro Awada), a condescending friend (strangers look down on him too) to whom he explains how easy it would be to rob the guards bringing the employees' pay. To show how much the taxidermist believes his own fantasy, we see the imaginary robbery rapidly enacted around them. Sontag has heard all this before, and seen his friend show off his photographic memory, and has little use for any of this. But since his first choice for the weekend was unavailable, he invites the taxidermist to come hunting. He refuses. But then, going home and finding his wife has left him, he changes his mind.
Out in the woods of Patagonia he accidentally kills a man called Dietrich (Manuel Rodal) who owns a seedy hunting lodge, and after Sontag leaves in a huff knowing nothing about this, the taxidermist falls heir to his victim's plans for robbing a casino. A pair of vicious hoods (Pablo Ceyrón, Walter Reyno) turn up, hired long distance to take part in the heist but not yet knowing all the details of it. The taxidermist improvises, as he's always done, about a robbery, based on what he's seen in the dead man's shack, foolishly pretending that he's been in on the plan all along. He also gets involved with Dietrich's young wife Diana (Dolores Fonzi) and her surly teenage brother Julio (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart). Finding neckties, chips, and notebooks with betting schemes, he goes to the casino and is immediately spotted by a security man-cum-loan shark (Jorge D'Elia) who picks his pocket and turns out to be the man who planned the caper with Dietrich. The taxidermist's larcenous ambitious are absurd, in his hands the plans for the heist get ever more complicated and confused, but he nonetheless bluffs his way through. There's another heist too that he gets to peek at as a result of listening to messages on Dietrich's cell phone. They all go wrong, Reservoir Dogs style.
"The Aura" is the word doctors give the moment before an epileptic attack, he tells Diana, a magic moment when he feels safe and free, but is helpless to resist the seizure. Apart from the striking widescreen photography of cinematographer Checco Varese, we can almost see the sound track, created by Jose Luis Diaz Ouzande and Carlos Abbate, which creates the epileptic attacks as aural environments, and brings in sputterings of guns and twitterings of birds; this is further enhanced by the music, never obtrusive, of Lucio Godoy.
The beauty of Bielensky's pacing is that the rush of action is interrupted by peaceful pauses, and the story, which is far more complex than we can suggest here, is sequenced in days to give it structure. Writers have alluded to a zombie movie or a Beckett story as hiding somewhere here. The torturous suspense of Coens' Blood Simple comes to mind, and also many previous noirs, but The Aura, with its Patagonian atmosphere and striking images and sound and its careful pacing, is distinctive. Darin's character is central to the film. Never was a noir more about character and never was that character so unique. Yet the taxidermist, like Dietrich's wolf-like dog with burning eyes who adopts him, remains a cinematic enigma. Bielinsky was an original and a meticulous craftsman who gives you lots to chew on. With this second feature, Bielinsky's demise seems tragic. The world has lost someone who was already becoming a master.