Released in Argentina in 2005, The Aura took the top honors at that country’s annual film awards ceremony. It is the second and last feature from writer and director Fabián Bielinsky, who died of a heart attack while working in Brazil in June, 2006. A more mature work than his previous Nine Queens, The Aura is a reflection upon the thriller genre rather than an actual thriller itself.
The title refers to the sensory signals a taxidermist receives just before he undergoes epileptic seizures. The unnamed taxidermist (played by Ricardo Darín) is a quiet, withdrawn dreamer who barely reacts when his wife leaves him. Persuaded by a colleague to go on a hunting trip, the taxidermist finds himself in the middle of a mountain forest training a rifle on a stag. One seizure later, he discovers that he’s shot and killed Dietrich (Manuel Rodal), the owner of the cabins where the hunters are staying as well as the mastermind behind a scheme to rob a nearby casino.
With the corpse hidden deep in the woods, and his companion called away by a medical emergency, the taxidermist is suddenly free to explore his theories about how to commit the perfect crime. He pieces together some of Dietrich’s plot, which involves overcoming the drivers of an armored car while they are visiting a roadside diner. But just as his epilepsy makes him vulnerable to his surroundings, the gaps in Dietrich’s plans leave the taxidermist open to unexpected complications.
Such as the arrival of Sosa (Pablo Cedrón) and Montero (Walter Reyno), two crooks who were working with Dietrich. The taxidermist not only must persuade them to accept him into the gang, but also figure out the role played by a third crook who can no longer participate. When the actual robbery goes disastrously awry, leaving corpses strewn by the roadside, the taxidermist may be in too far over his head to recover.
Bielinsky employs a deceptively simple style that mirrors the taxidermist’s second thoughts and hesitations. Viewers discover plot twists at the same time he does, leading to a growing awareness of the ramifications of the planned crime. The director elides certain key developments, but generally plays fair with the story’s clues. But Bielinsky’s intellectual approach can make The Aura feel a bit too abstract. Individual moments are finely crafted and persuasive, but as a whole the story has a few too many gaps and digressions.
Darín, one of the leads in Nine Queens, gives a carefully shaded performance that is more realistic than compelling. It’s up to the excellent character actors, like the sinister, sepulchral gunman played by Walter Reyno, to provide the real moments of suspense in The Aura.
Bielinsky’s attention to detail, in his writing but also in his handling of locations and actors, adds a distinctive austerity to the film. Undeniably talented, the director’s best attribute may have been his curiosity, the driving force behind The Aura.
Cast: Ricardo Darín, Dolores Fonzi, Alejandro Awada, Pablo Cedrón, Jorge D’Elia, Manuel Rodal, Rafael Castejón, Walter Reyno, Nahuel Perez Biscayart.
Crew: Written and directed by Fabián Bielinsky. Produced by Pablo Bossi, Samuel Hadida, Gerardo Herrero, Mariela Besuievsky. Executive producers: Cecilia Bossi, Victor Hadida, Ariel Saúl, Diego Conejero, José Garcia Espian. Director of photography: Checco Varese. Edited by Alejandro Carrillo Penovi, Fernando Pardo. Art director: Mercedes Alfonsín. Costume designer: Marisa Urruti. Sound: José Luis Diaz Ouzande, Carlos Abbate. A Patagonik Film Group, Tornasol Films, and Davis Films Productions production, with the participation of TVE and Canal+. In Spanish with English subtitles.
IFC First Take/Color/2.35/Dolby Digital/138 Mins./Not rated