short film reviews, criticism, and occasional musing.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Aura (2005, Argentinian)

Nine Queens is something of a favorite of mine - a fantastic contemporary heist film with the flair of one of the old Jean-Pierre Melville New Wave noirs packed into a contemporary South American setting. It saddened me a great deal to learn that Fabian Bielinsky, the director of Nine Queens, died not long after completing his second, and ultimately final, film, The Aura. Bielinsky had a great talent for composing taut, atmospheric crime thrillers, and his career would have been fascinating to track on a longer term. At the very least, however, he has left behind two films that should help keep the recent wave of new Latin filmmaking vibrant.

The Aura again stars the hangdog Ricardo Darin, whose performance here is so different than in Queens that I'm immediately queuing up any of his other available films on Netflix. Darin plays Esteban Espinosa, a very reserved taxidermist, who, apart from his brief spells of epilepsy, is remarkable only for his seemingly baseless knowledge of criminal matters. Standing in a payroll line with a co-worker, he explains a detailed - and seemingly entirely off-the-cuff - heist plan, calculated down to the minute. Esteban's theory is that most criminals aren't very good because they don't notice the details, don't plan carefully enough, and he finds himself with a chance to prove this soon enough.

As introspective as Queens is glib, The Aura showcases Bielinsky's own strengths at careful planning, though it never feels cold, thanks in large part to Darin, playing a very difficult role as a character who is almost completely inscrutable - Esteban's true motives may not even be known to Esteban. There's a lot going on here beyond the surface plot, and it's a shame that Bielinsky won't be around to develop his working relationship with Darin, or to expand his own talents into new genres. But at least we'll have these two films to admire.


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