An Aura of Brilliance
by Harvey Perr
now playing at the IFC Center
Under the opening credits of the stunning Argentinean film noir, “The Aura,” there is a brilliant dissection of the central character’s art as a taxidermist: we watch a dead animal created, step by step, from the skeleton of a live one. We learn so little about the emotional life of this nameless character that it is in this depiction of his art that we are brought as close as we are permitted to get into his inner life. Of his outer life, we know that he is epileptic and that, seconds before his seizures, he feels the aura from which the film gets its title. We learn too that his wife, whom we never see, has just left him. And we can feel from his taciturn nature why he is impossible to live with. We become distanced from him even as we move closer to him. The next thing we learn is that, somewhere inside his mind, he is capable of imagining the perfect crime of any scenario. And, out of these strands of information, the plot is set into motion.
The taxidermist, played with mournful soulfulness by Ricardo Darin, goes on a hunting trip to a mountain forest with a friend. Non-violent by nature, he is chided to be more macho and pull the trigger, whereupon, after awakening from one of his seizures and imagining he sees an animal they have been hunting, he accidentally kills a man. Telling no one of the incident, he is subsequently abandoned by his friend, stays behind in the rented cabin, becomes emotionally involved with the murdered man’s widow, and even more involved with a scheme concocted by the dead man that includes a heist which sets the stage for the taxidermist to live out a perfect crime instead of merely imagining it.
Since Bielinsky constantly demonstrates the disparity between his fantasy and reality, we know from the start that the real perfect crime can only remain in his head, but we are impelled to go on his journey with him, held in suspense even as we are always aware of the inevitable destination of that journey.
The directorial style is measured and yet fluid. The film moves with confident deliberation. The sound of the film runs almost counter to the visual, creating a tension and disorientation that both unnerves and excites us. This is a film that makes us bolt upright even as it holds us at arm’s length emotionally. Its audacity startles even though the final kick in the guts is withheld.
If a certain melancholy hovers over “The Aura,” it is because its director, Fabian Bielinsky, died at the age of 46, after completing this, his second and last feature. But the film provides us with enough evidence that, if Bielinsky had lived and continued to make movies, his would have been a fascinating career to follow. There is so much to be thrilled by in “The Aura” that its ultimate tragedy is that Bielinsky will not be able to go even further the next time around. One leaves the theatre sadder for the knowledge that there will be no next time.