THE AURA (EL AURA) written and directed by Fabián Bielinsky, with Ricardo Darín and Manuel Rodal. An Seville Pictures release. 134 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (March 9) at the Royal. See Indie & Rep Film, page 94. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
The Aura is the second and last film by Argentine director Fabián Bielinsky, who died of a heart attack last year at 46. After working for almost two decades as an assistant and second unit director, Bielinsky's first feature, Nine Queens, announced the arrival of a major talent in the crime film. Now he's gone.
The two films shared a star, Ricardo Darín. In Nine Queens, he was a con man who thought he was the smartest guy in the room. In The Aura, he's an epileptic museum taxidermist who likes to imagine crimes. He passes these ideas on to Dietrich (Manuel Rodal), who implements them. Then, one day, he works out an armoured car/casino heist and Dietrich invites him on a hunting trip. Suddenly things aren't so theoretical. Suddenly our hero is operating in a world of incomplete information and human variables.
The Aura satisfies the requirements of the thriller genre: a crime gone wrong, a small but noteworthy body count and an unexpected shootout. But it's really a psychological study of a man who's spent his life dealing with dead animals finding himself in a lethal mix with live humans.
In Nine Queens, Darín played a charismatic, outgoing manipulator (John C. Reilly played the role in the American remake, Criminal). Here, he's a man who longs to withdraw from the world. It's interesting to watch a charismatic actor shut down the very quality that defines him.
In The Aura, Bielinsky manages to work against both the natural talents of his star and our expectations of the narrative and character, focusing on a guy who should have got shot in the third reel by the real badasses.
With his unusual rural location and nuanced performances, Bielinsky pitched his film to people who like to watch slow, in the process reminding us of a tremendous talent we've lost in his death.