At long last! Cristi Puiu's stunning, matter-of-fact murder mystery gets its big screen dues. Seek it out.
Size matters. It’s been just over two years since Cristi Puiu’s forensically intimate and tantalisingly opaque 180-minute psycho drama, Aurora, premiered in a Cannes sidebar in 2010. Though the film polarised critics, its hulking runtime no doubt contributed to its prolonged shelving.
Apparently your name has to be James Cameron or David Fincher to produce three-hour films that will also be given a chance to find an audience in cinemas. That Puiu’s 'size' as the lauded Romanian maestro behind 2005’s The Death of Mr Lazarescu didn’t count for squat suggests a sad state of distribution affairs.
In tone and execution, Puiu’s formally exacting horrorshow feels like a long-lost relation of Chantal Akerman’s 1975 masterpiece, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, in that it captures the daily movements of a single protagonist with an artful, closed-circuit precision. To watch the film requires an immaculate attention to psychological detail: there is no exposition, nor do characters explain their actions or randomly air their grievances in fortuitous earshot of the camera. If you’re not willing to give yourself over to this movie, then there really is no point in watching it.
Puiu himself plays Viorel, a schlubby middle-aged father of two who is in the midst of a very important piece of business and is worried that someone might be following him. He’s able to act normally around his family and work colleagues, but when he’s on his own (which he is for much of the film), his mind appears to be taken over by some enigmatic concern.
Puiu’s technically astonishing performance is a mess of minutely calibrated tics and glances, while information regarding events that have occurred prior to the film’s timeframe can be inferred from how Viorel engages with his his surroundings. The question of where his paranoia derives is addressed in the second half of the film, and when it arrives, it’s a shocking revelation.
Perhaps the defining statement among a recent spate of films that take the banality of evil as their subject – Markus Schleinzer’s Michael, Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown – Aurora manages to convey an air of extreme violence without ever actually depicting any on screen. As with The Death of Mr Lazarescu and his brilliant, littleknown debut, Stuff and Dough, Puiu confirms here that he sees cinema as tool to monitor human process, and that material which may initially come across as extraneous or spurious can in fact be loaded with vital subtext and insight.
When the film was released in the US, a few critics dismissed Aurora as 'too boring'. It does require a massive emotional investment, and it is very long, but this chilly and majestic work takes a giant risk in choosing to be about boredom. It examines the wealth of physical and psychological detail that contributes towards a single act. In the end, it asks if a system of law could ever be sophisticated enough to acknowledge the dark complexities of the human mind.
Check out our interview with Cristi Puiu.
Split opinion right down the middle when it premiered two years ago.
A technical and emotional tour de force. A(nother) great addition to the so-called Romanian New Wave.
Best to keep distractions to a minimum for this one. See it in the cinema if you can.