"The Aura" is a startling psychological drama with plenty of unexpected twists, a worthy follow-up by the Argentine director Fabian Bielinsky
to his riveting debut, the con-game thriller "Nine Queens."
After the adrenaline rush of "Nine Queens" (which is far better than its American remake, the John C. Reilly
vehicle "Criminal"), being submerged in the dark moodiness of "The Aura" makes one wonder what else Bielinsky could accomplish. Alas, all we can do is wonder, as Bielinsky died from a heart attack last June in S9o Paulo at age 45. The fact of his death brings an added layer of sadness to "The Aura's" deep shadows.
Ricardo Darin, who played the con man in "Nine Queens," here plays Esteban, a morose taxidermist who occasionally suffers from epileptic seizures. (The "aura" of the title refers to the moment of mental clarity he feels before each attack.) Esteban's only interest besides taxidermy, he tells his colleague Sontag (Alejandro Awada), is idly fantasizing about ways to pull off the perfect heist.
When Esteban's wife leaves him, Sontag tries to cheer his buddy up with a hunting trip in Patagonia. Sontag has to leave early, but Esteban stays behind in a remote cabin, intrigued by Diana (Dolores Fonzi
), the young and withdrawn wife of Dietrich (Manuel Robal), the cabin's absent owner. Then Esteban accidentally kills Dietrich in a hunting accident - and, while hiding the body, he learns his temporary landlord was the center of his own plot to steal a casino's profits. Slowly, almost reluctantly, Esteban decides to take Dietrich's place and carry out the robbery.
Where "Nine Queens" was fast and snappy, "The Aura" is deliberate and meditative. Where the older movie had a colorful palette, this one works in muted grays and browns. Where Darin's previous character was cocky and confident, his Esteban is a study in hangdog resignation - a pessimist who predicts the worst even as his own cops-and-robbers fantasy is coming true.
Yet, in spite of its tortoiselike pacing, "The Aura" never comes off as dull. Bielinsky's spare dialogue and smooth camerawork (as when Esteban's imaginary bank robbery is played out), and Darin's ability to let us see the quick-calculating mind behind Esteban's sleepwalking eyes, combine for a fascinating dissection of how little separates ordinary folks from master criminals.
* SEAN P. MEANS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-257-8602. Send comments about this review to email@example.com.