'Aurora': Miami Review

aurora Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Caco Films

aurora Still - H 2015

A beautifully played and satisfying combination of austerity and emotion

True-life drama about a Chilean woman’s struggles to adopt a dead child.

A remarkable, simply told story with far-reaching implications, Aurora tackles its high-risk, stranger-than-fiction premise — a woman’s wish to adopt a dead child — with compassion, grace and poise. Much of this derives from the quietly intense central performance from renowned Chilean actress Amparo Noguera that pervades every corner of an enrichingly troubling, sometimes painful and ultimately very moving drama which raises all sorts of uncomfortable moral questions. The warm reception afforded on the festival circuit to Rodrigo Sepulveda's third feature should continue, but art house play would be more than merited for a slow-burning film whose impact lingers.

Tight-lipped and chiseled schoolteacher Sofia (Noguera), austere in manner and dress and a fine, upstanding member of her north Chilean community, wishes to adopt a child with her hangdog, faithful husband, Pedro (Luis Gnecco), but her attempts to do so are continually frustrated by bureaucracy. (The delicately drawn dynamics of their long-term relationship is another of the film’s virtues.) On reading in the press that a dead baby has been found at a trash site, Sofia decides that the corpse must receive a decent burial, and gives it a name: Aurora.

A local world-weary judge, Aguila (Jaime Vadell), reluctantly advises her that the only way to approach the task is by adopting the baby. The plot goes into some pretty recondite areas of Chilean law; as Sofia relentlessly pursues her odd, and oddly human, dream, she (and her audience) will learn, for example, that only if the baby can be proven to have breathed can it be adopted — and if it did breathe, then it may be a murder victim. Dr Schultz (Francisco Perez-Bannen) is brought in to help.

Sofia’s work suffers, and her marriage becomes strained. But any doubts the viewer might have that she’s just crazy are swiftly dismantled by the script’s compassion for her. “It needs to be done,” Sofia states, “because it could have been my daughter.” Aurora's script wisely avoids playing her as the heroine and indeed sidesteps the issue of precisely why such a thing has to be done. But it’s testament to the quiet power of both Noguera’s performance and Sepulveda’s script that if viewers previously doubted the necessity of adopting a dead baby (or guagua, as Chilean Spanish beautifully, onomatopoeically puts it), then after watching they no longer will.

Such stranger-than-fiction concepts as this require a steady scripting hand if the entire project is not to tip over into morbidity, risibility or melodrama, but Sepulveda elegantly avoids all the obvious pitfalls. The law makes no provision for emotions such as those Sofia is feeling, and this idea makes Aurora far more than an offbeat drama. It’s a tale of one woman’s quiet, persistent crusade against inner lack and forgetfulness, but also against state indifference, which plays seamlessly into the political issues of Chile’s troubled 20th century past, in which thousand were “disappeared” by a military dictatorship.

Aurora is set in a sunless, rainy coastal town in northern Chile where even the weather seems to conspire against joyfulness. Enrique Stindt’s photography creates several evocative tableaux: one, a conversation between Aurora and her friend (Mariana Loyola), is memorably framed as factories in the background spew smoke out into the night air — a metaphor, perhaps, for our capacity for contaminating things that should be straightforwardly pure. Carlos Cabezas’ score largely consists of electronic discordance before modulating into the cathartically uplifting over the final sequence.

Production companies: Caco Films, Forastero
Cast: Amparo Noguera, Luis Gnecco, Jaime Vadell, Francisco Perez-Bannen, Mariana Loyola
Director-screenwriter: Rodrigo Sepulveda
Producers: Florencia Larrea, Rodrigo Sepulveda
Executive producers: Gregorio Gonzalez, Josefina Undurraga Schuler
Director of photography: Enrique Stindt
Production designer: Paloma Sanchez
Costume designer: Muriel Parra
Editors: Andrea Chignoli, Jose Luis Torres Leiva
Composer: Carlos Cabezas
Sales: Films Boutique

No rating, 98 minutes