Review by Willard Manus
THE AURA, Argentina's official selection for the Oscar (and a lead attraction at Palm Springs), is a noirish thriller with quirky and original touches which enable it to continually stay one step ahead of the audience. Written and directed by Fabian Bielinski, it tells the story of an "average" man (Ricardo Darin) whose impulsive flirtation with crime leads to more trouble and danger than he can handle.
Darin, a taxidermist attached to a natural-history museum, is shocked when he comes home from work and discovers that his wife has left him. Feeling bereft and abandoned, he makes the first of many mistakes: joining a friend and fellow-worker--a man he no longer likes--on a hunting trip.
Darin isn't much of a hunter. He not only hates guns and killing animals, but is an epileptic who sometimes suffers from seizures and black-outs. Before a fit hits him, though, he often experiences moments of clarity and clairvoyance, a way of looking into the future. What he sees, early on, is himself taking part in the robbery of armored-car guards.
Life follows vision. After accidentally shooting the owner of the isolated, creepy hunting camp where he has rented a cabin, Darin gets caught up, against his will, in a robbery plan hatched up by some ex-cons who mistakenly believe he's one of them. Knowing that he's way over his head in an enterprise that can only end in death and disaster, Darin still goes along with the flow, getting a perverse thrill out of his ability to fool these hard boys and lead them on.
Bielinski unspools his bleak but compelling tale with impressive restraint and understatement. Dialogue is sparse and terse; but his images and visual sense are rich, assured. Every shot is well-framed and evocative, soaked with atmosphere and emotion, a sense of menace.
All of Bielinski's actors, starting with Darin, are well-cast and believable, especially the bad guys. Although they rarely raise their voices and eschew excessive histrionics, they are very bad guys indeed--ruthless and cynical to the core.
But the best thing about THE AURA is the way it keeps twisting and turning, going off in new and unexpected directions, surprising one at every step along the way.