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Aurora -- Film Review

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CANNES -- These days young Romanian directors seem to be indulging in a frenzied round of macho competition: How long can we baffle and bore the audience before we deliver the goods? How much will they take before walking out? It must be said immediately that the goods are, in fact, always delivered at the end of the best of these films, and that's wonderfully true in "Aurora" as well. But what do we have to go through to get there?

Up to now, last year's "Police, Adjective," directed by Corneliu Porumboiu, has been the reigning champion, with about 105 minutes spent on a policeman following and watching a marijuana user, before devoting the film's final quarter-hour, set in a police station, to a brilliant thematic summation of the meaning of justice and morality.

Porumboiu's relentlessly boring forced march, however, has been blown out of the water by Cristi Puiu's "Aurora," which clocks in at 3 hours, at least one of which could easily be done without. As such, commercial prospects look grim, even among the many art film lovers who have come to admire recent Romanian cinema.

Viorel, whose name we only discover near the end of the film and who is played by the director himself in his first screen role, is a restless soul. He wanders around the streets of Bucharest looking for something or someone, but we haven't a clue what it is. He also seems to be remodeling an apartment, which he spends a lot of time doing nothing in.

About 75 minutes into the film, a shotgun is introduced and, with Chekhov as our guide, we expect it to eventually to go off, which it does about 30 minutes later. (When the shotgun is introduced, the main character practices both suicidal and homicidal gestures with the gun, which is presumably meant to endow the proceedings with a modicum of suspense.)

When several violent acts do finally occur, we haven't a clue as to the motive or to the identities of the victims. Yet the scenes of the film's final half hour -- when the main character picks up his little daughter at school and when he goes looking for someone in a shop and quietly terrorizes the salesgirls -- are powerfully menacing and make one wish all the more strongly that one knew what was going on. The final scene, set, like "Police, Adjective," in a police station, offers a subtle social critique that is diminished because we've expended so much effort figuring out what the hell was going on.

 

Puiu's second film, the exceptionally well-received "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu," was also full of mundane, seemingly "meaningless" events, but there the director condescended to help orient us, even from the title on. We knew that Mr. Lazarescu was in a bad way, and we felt sympathy for this fellow human who was shuffled bureaucratically from one hospital to another before his death that was already foretold.

Nothing of the sort happens here. And it's not that an explanation of what happens is required, but at a bare minimum audiences should be permitted to know, in fact, what did happen and to whom. This doesn't seem to be asking too much.

Venue: Festival de Cannes -- Un Certain Regard
Production companies: Mandragora, Parisienne de Production, Bord Cadre Films, Essential Filmproduktion
Cast: Cristi Puiu, Clara Voda, Valeria Seciu, Luminita Seciu
Writer-director: Cristi Puiu
Producer: Anca Puiu, Bobby Paunescu
Director of photography: Viorel Sergovici
Editor: Joachim Stroe
Sales: Coproduction Office
No rating, 181 minutes