“Fantasies becoming reality”
Argentinean director Fabián Bielinsky tragically passed away last June. Upon his death, he had completed only two films, 2000’s Nueve Reinas and this year’s El Aura. I have not yet seen his first film, however, everything I have heard has been rave reviews—it even got the American remake treatment in 2004’s Criminal. It is a horrible shame that he was not given the chance to evolve as a filmmaker because his second and final film is fantastic. El Aura is an expertly written crime thriller, well acted and beautifully shot. Bielinsky was a true visionary and he will be missed. Experience this auteur’s work and support the Market Arcade Theatre’s ongoing Emerging Cinema series as it brings indie and foreign films to Buffalo for small runs that aren’t given to very many cities.
Ricardo Darín, also the star of Nueve reinas, plays an epileptic taxidermist whose life slowly crawls by while his fantasies of the perfect crime keep his drive for life going. We are thrust into the story with the first frame, Darín’s Esteban waking from a blacked-out seizure. The cause of the attack is not revealed until later as we get to know more about his character. He is a shy man, against killing, and not one to seek out conflict. The city’s museum pays him and a colleague for bringing in preserved stuffings for new exhibits. It is while waiting for their check that we get our first glimpse into the dream world Esteban wishes he lived in. Bielinsky directs the scene with a deft hand as our lead’s foolproof robbery plan is orchestrated around he and his friend while the process is told. Esteban has a photographic memory and can see all the outs and all the spoils without the loss of lives. The only reason people die during a job is because thieves are idiots—if he could have his chance, he would be successful, quick, and safe.
Unfortunately the fantasy of a fast-paced, high-risk life crashes down to earth once Esteban returns home. His wife has left him and he realizes he has gone through life too cautiously. Calling a fellow taxidermist on his offer to go hunting, he decides to try and take a change of pace vacation from the mundane existence he is used to. Once in the woods, his true colors come out as he purposely sabotages his companion from killing a deer and, after a spell of epilepsy, he finds himself at the center of a hunting accident. This event spirals him into the makings for one of his concocted heist schemes. All the pieces fall into place for him and he assumes the lead role in a job to knock off a casino’s weekend earnings. The difference between fantasy and reality, however, is more than being smart, because you can never see every angle. Esteban becomes too confident as he goes deeper and deeper into interacting with the world of crime. No one can be trusted and no plan is every perfectly conceived.
Darín is truly magnificent in this role. He plays the depressed Esteban to great effect, as his naïveté at every move is always evident on his face. The man he tries to be is very unnatural to his character and the audience can totally believe how he could get so far over his head. All the supporting players are effective as well playing their characters to full effect—the blowhard friend, the muscle and brains of a criminal duo, the brother and sister (a standout performance by Dolores Fonzi) who left one abusive family to join another, and the crooked smooth-talking accomplice who plays any side to make out with some cash.
Every actor is allowed to play their roles realistically and intelligently without making the audience feel like children as everything is explained to them. There are many stretches of silence throughout the film as we are shown characters interacting without any unnecessary talking that would never have been spoken in real life. Each event is given air to breath and unravels in its own way amongst the gorgeous wooded landscapes. Bielinsky had a firm handle on what he wanted to express and he didn’t let anything get in the way of that. His use of the camera to help progress the story is perfect. Whenever Esteban is recalling a detail he has seen before, we are given a sharp cut to that past place. Also, every instance of planning out his moves is played in real time to show how it will happen. Even when his cohorts chime in, like for the addition of ski masks, the details are updated into the fantasy play. The real shining moment of cinematography, though, is in the filming of Esteban’s attacks. He experiences a change inside himself before each one—a greater sense of being, the aura, when he is truly free from making any decisions as the seizure takes hold. As a viewer, we are able to feel the disorientation through a close-up montage of Darín’s face being caught up as the frame moves and becomes constricted. The sound effects change as well, truly making the audience feel what the character feels on screen. Esteban can be overtaken at any moment by his affliction yet he allows himself to try his hand at the life he has been fantasizing about. The results are chilling as the tension reaches a boil before concluding into a perfectly symmetrical finish, yet made mysterious by the classical music, suggesting maybe that Esteban has been caught in a spell the entire time.
El Aura 8/10 | ★ ★ ★