Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Aura

"The Aura" is that rare sophomore work so full of promise that it's a shame director Fabian Bielinsky will never get the opportunity to share more of his cinematic vision. At the age of 46, Bielinsky passed away in June of last year due to a heart attack. What remains as his body of work, the 2000 con-man thriller "Nine Queens" and the dramatically better "The Aura" released last year, are two completely whole, engaging pieces of filmmaking that honor the best of the crime/thriller genre.

"The Aura" plays out like a crime film imagined by the likes of Michaelangelo Antonioni; a thriller where scenes such as a hunting mistake, a dog sniffing the clothes of a man fresh from the woods, and a heist filmed in long POV shots- carry such cosmic weight. Antonioni is also invoked when the lead character, Espinosa, consumes the identity of a dead man and requisitions his plans to cash in on a score. But with the hopes of great money comes bad guys and those dark, brooding moments that earmark the best of crime films. Given a little more time, Bielinsky easily could've being the heir to Jean Pierre Melville. He does the genre that well.

When we first meet Espinosa, he's lying on the floor of a bank at night, prone to epileptic fits that cause him to black out. But, like so many handicapped protagonists, what he lacks in physical agility he makes up for with mental capacity. Espinosa's hobby is envisioning how the perfect heist would play out. While waiting in line to pick up his check from a local museum where he works as a taxidermist, he verbally walks through the entire perfect plan to rob and the guards as they bring their bags of money in for the day. In addition to his ability to critically analyze a given situation, Espionosa is blessed with a photographic memory (and by now I'm sure you've realized that these unusual traits will come in handy as the film plays out). A hunting trip with the same acquaintance results in Espinosa making a deadly mistake and stumbling into a world of criminal mischief. Finally, his daydreams can begin to take shape in reality.

Revealing any more plot of Bielinsky's terrific and airtight genre piece would be unforgivable. Everything about "The Aura" works. For the first 95 minutes, Bielinsky weaves a methodical web of music and images that confounds and interests as each minute goes on. Everything is answered, in time, but part of the fun of "The Aura" is in the way Bielinsky (who also wrote the film) refuses to give us any idea of just where the film is headed. As mentioned above, there's one scene in particular that documents a hold-up gone wrong from the POV of Espinosa as he watches from across the street. The camera swish pans back and forth, hinting at the chaos inside the factory through distant gun shots and inaudible voices. Like the remainder of "The Aura", it refreshes a well tread genre trope and gives the whole affair a haunting feel that never diminishes.

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