starring Ricardo Darín, Dolores Fonzi, Pablo Cedrón, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart
written and directed by Fabián Bielinsky
by Walter Chaw The late Argentine director Fabián Bielinsky's swan song, The Aura (El Aura) is a throwback in spirit and execution to the grim, inward-gazing paranoia dramas of the 1970s. Hero Esteban (Ricardo Darin) is an epileptic taxidermist who wakes up, as the film opens, in a bank vestibule; we proceed to follow him into a credits sequence that sees him resurrecting, in his meticulous craft, a fox for a museum panorama. The title The Aura might refer to that illusion of life to which Bielisnky's sadsack loner endeavours to manufacture--to imbue--in his projects; or maybe it refers to the vicarious pleasure he takes in planning out imaginary heists (like the father and his friend in Shadow of a Doubt) before ultimately becoming embroiled in an armoured-car robbery scheme after accidentally shooting the plot's kingpin. The title could even point to the spirit of The Aura itself, buoyed as it is by the spirits of the films from the American New Wave, which Bielinsky counted among his favourite eras in cinema. (I wonder if Bielinsky didn't think of himself as born too early or too late, trapped in a film industry eating itself from the inside out.) Whatever the case, it's a detective story in its purest incarnation, with the hero on a journey to find himself amidst the ruin of what he's made of his world; and it's a caper flick, one where the prize--that is, the only prize that matters--is a friend for Esteban as he finishes out his life on the desolate outskirts of truly living. The picture, then, is gripped by a reverence for genre (noir especially) stripped down and reconstructed as a weary attitude and a flawed protagonist ultimately driven by loneliness to become a member of the world rather than just a chronicler of its past and possibilities. Reminding of Jules Dassin's expat heist flicks, it's infused with a whiff of the outsider's stale regret. Originally published: December 6, 2006.