Bolstered by his Cannes prize for The Death of Mr Lazarescu, Romanian director Cristi Puiu should attract the attention of discerning cinephiles for his third outing, although its austere subject matter may deter some while others may baulk at its overly long running time.
Running for more than three hours Aurora is an absorbing if daunting undertaking for filmgoers. Cristi Puiu, a rising directorial star of European cinema who also takes the lead role, covers about one and a half days in the life of a middle-aged man named Viorel whom we first see getting out of bed with a woman who is sobbing.
The mystery begins. She might be his wife, though the way he shrinks into the shadows when a girl appears calling for her mom suggests that this is by no means certain.
Throughout the film, Viorel keeps us guessing. We watch in puzzlement as he wanders and drives about the city. Who is he? Where does he live? What precisely is his relationship to the various people he encounters? And finally, why does he show such a keen interest in that rifle? These are all questions that come to haunt us.
Puiu turns in an impressively eloquent performance, revealing the individual's pent-up anger and keeping us on edge the entire film. He sees people around him not as friends or family but as potential enemies. There are similarities to titles such as Targets and Falling Down in the way the narrative is more preoccupied by the reasons behind the killings than the events themselves.
Aurora, which is the second of Puiu's projected series of Six Stories from the Outskirts of Bucharest pushes the boundaries even further than his 2005 Cannes success The Death of Mr Lazarescu, but demonstrates that he is a filmmaker in cool control of his material with a mission to overturn cinematic clichés. Bracketed with Cristian Mungiu, Corneliu Porumboiu and Catalin Mitulescu, Puiu can be considered part of the so-called "Romanian New Wave"
Puiu was inspired by a TV series on crime in Romania. He came to realize that murders are committed in the main by family, friends and neighbors. Killing, he appears to suggest, is a lot more banal than we think.
He doesn't feel obliged to provide ready answers to all the conundrums he raises, preferring instead to leave a trail of ambiguity. At one point the main character says: "It's chemistry...I can't help it." Such a thought in the mind of such a cold-blooded killer leaves a chilling after-taste.
Distributor: Cinema Guild.
Cast: Cristi Puiu, Clara Voda, Luminita Gheorghiu, Catrinel Dumitrescu, Valentin Popescu, Gheorghe Ifrim
Director/Screenwriter: Cristi Puiu
Producers: Anca Puiu, Bobby Paunescu
Genre: Drama; Romaninan-language, subtitled
Running time: 181 min.
Release date: June 24 NY