2006Director: Fabián Bielinsky
Cast: Ricardo Darín, Dolores Fonzi
he nameless hero of The Aura spends most of his time around death. As a taxidermist he finds himself positioned in the dwindling aftermath of violence; his role is to rebuild a creature struck down in the heat of a swift, malicious act—not with the intent to rejuvenate, but with the impassive aim to freeze his specimen in a state of perpetual death. Perhaps after years of thriving in this limbo where death becomes something eternal, we can begin to understand his unhealthy fixation with armed robberies—meticulously planning, but never carrying out the perfect heist. Charged with the task of preserving the violent acts of others, he now seeks to be the catalyst that shapes the outcomes of one of those acts. But when he finds himself unwittingly drawn into someone else’s perfectly planned scheme, he must decide whether he’s cut out for such a life, or if it should remain confined to his imagination.
The Aura adopts the tone of a deadly serious heist movie, but approaches this seemingly straightforward subject in a strangely unconventional manner. Drawing parallels between this piece and a film like Memento wouldn’t be that far off the mark, provided one elucidates to what extreme The Aura pursues its puzzling narrative to profound ends rather than petty, novel theatrics. Memento purposely rearranges its narrative to inject flair into an otherwise stagnant screenplay. The Aura by contrast, leaves its chronology intact, but positions the task of unraveling the plot as the central element in illuminating the mind of its troubled main character.
However, this isn’t a review of the failures of Memento but the achievements of The Aura, a film that works brilliantly as both a conventional thriller and a labyrinthine arthouse gem. The Aura does get off to a slow start, but even then it demonstrates some directorial flair, exhibiting a brilliant scene in which the taxidermist describes a theoretical holdup while the actual events are played out around his conversation. The way director Fabián Bielinsky navigates between reality and fantasy so effortlessly is in itself breathtaking. But only when the story takes its first narrative plunge into existential waters do we begin to appreciate the true breadth of Bielinsky’s craft.
The taxidermist accompanies a fellow colleague on a hunting trip. Although the film never provides a crystal clear motivation, we sense that he seeks escape from some drudgery suffocating his former existence. After failing to find a hotel with vacancy, the pair checks into a rundown cabin owned by a young woman, her significantly older husband (who is off hunting in the woods), and her brother. Although the two men appear pensive about the whole arrangement, they nevertheless elect to stay for the night and immediately set off on the hunt. The trip is marred by some bad blood between the companions and the ironic fact that the taxidermist has never killed anything. Eventually, the two men part ways, and our hero, while wandering through the woods alone, comes face to face with his first chance at slaughter—a helpless deer.
Perhaps it is here that I should mention the taxidermist’s affliction. He suffers from epilepsy. After trailing the deer through the woods, he finally has it in his crosshairs. Just when it seems that the man intends to cross that threshold from theoretical violence into actual violence, he suffers from an episode. When he recovers, he scans the forest for his intended prey. Hearing a twig snap in the distance, he quickly finds his target and unloads a deadly, precise shot, discovering too late that on the other end of his barrel was not the deer he anticipated, but another human being. To make matters worse, after examining the body, he soon discovers that the man he just murdered is the husband of the girl who checked them into their cabin earlier.
However, instead of confessing to his crime, he attempts to cover it up. Perhaps illustrating his desire to confront danger, he decides to confiscate the dead man’s cellular phone before leaving the body. After listening to messages left on the phone and looking over vague plans he discovers in a locked shed near the body, the taxidermist begins to piece together a heist the man he murdered may have been planning. After some imposing men arrive on the hunting grounds looking for the deceased man, our hero finds himself playing the part of the middleman in the scheme, pretending to be an accomplice of the man he accidentally gunned down. His photographic memory comes in handy here, as it allows him to recall information he read in the dead man’s documents. He utilizes this information to make his case more convincing to the gangsters.
Relating the plot here on paper, I confess that it sounds like a contrived mess hinged on a series of preposterous occurrences. While I will concede that The Aura offers up a lot to chance, it does so in a convincing manner. The brooding nature with which the film pursues its plot lends it an artsy demeanor lacking in far too many heist films. However, this style doesn’t detract from the thriller aspects, but, in fact, intensifies the exhilaration one feels watching the movie. It’s the kind of film that attempts to connect on several levels and succeeds at every one.
The Aura is currently playing in limited release.
By: Dave Micevic
Published on: 2007-01-04