This filmgoer had high hopes for writer-director Fabián Bielinsky's second feature film, El Aura / The Aura – Argentina's 2005 Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award submission and the winner of the Argentinean Film Critics' Association Silver Condor Award. I had found Bielinsky's clever, labyrinthine 2000 caper thriller Nueve reinas / Nine Queens one of the most intriguing examples of the genre.
Unfortunately, El Aura – which, like Nueve reinas, offers a harsh look at contemporary Argentina – didn't live up to my expectations.
Although this somber psychological thriller provides several solid dramatic and suspenseful moments, it also takes a number of uninteresting twists and turns that add length to the film without adding anything revealing about the character of its antihero, a placid, epileptic taxidermist who dreams of committing the perfect crime. Since we learn from the start that this man is a wolf in terrier's clothing, much of what happens later unnecessarily reiterates that same point ad nauseam.
Also, considering that this is a thriller that takes itself quite seriously, I found it difficult to suspend disbelief as often as I was required to during the film's 134 minutes. Among the many “coincidences” that pepper El Aura – the title refers to the sensations that precede an epileptic seizure – our antihero suffers two seizures during the course of the film, both times at crucial moments in the narrative. Additionally, he conveniently gets access to a dead man's all-revealing cell phone messages without having to enter a pass code, and takes a much-needed safe-box key from another man who luckily dies right in front of him.
He also possesses an extraordinary photographic memory, something that may indeed occur in real life, though his inconvenient memory slip at the film's climax feels just like another plot ploy. And for someone who has the quickest mind in the Southern Hemisphere when it comes to making up stories, the taxidermist is strangely slow-witted when it comes to realizing that psychopathic murderers are not to be trusted.
El Aura would have been a better film had it focused less on its human characters and more on its stellar canine, a wolf-dog (played by Eva) that is as cuddly as it is deadly. Granted, Ricardo Darín, one of Argentina's top performers (and one of the leads in Nueve reinas), does solid work as the epileptic taxidermist who discovers much too late that he isn't nearly as good a heist planner as he thought he was. But truly, the film's real star is the wolf-dog.
Featured as a sort of alter ego to our antihero, the charismatic canine even sports one blue eye and one brown eye as evidence of its dual nature. In the film's final scene, the dog's haunting – actually, downright spooky – close-up leaves more of a mark than anything else that preceded it.
Reviewed at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
El Aura / The Aura (2005). Dir. / Scr.: Fabián Bielinsky. Cast: Ricardo Darín, Dolores Fonzi, Pablo Cedrón, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Jorge D'Elia.
A nameless, unprepossessing taxidermist (Ricardo Darín) fancies himself capable of committing the perfect robbery. Possessing an acute photographic memory, he can clearly remember every detail of everything he sees.
When a friend, Sontag (Alejandro Awada), invites him on a hunting trip to Patagonia, the taxidermist, whose wife has just left him, accepts the invitation as a means to escape from his drab life in Buenos Aires.
The taxidermist, however, is not a hunter. Although he makes a living working with the remains of dead animals, he's averse to killing. While on a hunting excursion, he gets into a nasty fight with Sontag – who, besides enjoying killing beautiful animals, happens to be a wife-beater.
The taxidermist is left behind in the forest, where he suffers an epileptic attack. When he recovers, he sees a majestic deer near him. Feeling the need to prove his manhood, he aims at the deer. But since he's still recovering from his episode, he ends up shooting another hunter, Carlos Dietrich (Manuel Rodal), the mysterious owner of the local lodge.
By listening in to Dietrich's cell phone messages, and by doing some investigation of his own in Dietrich's secret hideaway, he discovers that the hunter was planning a casino heist.
When he meets Sosa (Pablo Cedron) and his mentor Montero (Walter Reyno), two of Dietrich's accomplices who have arrived from northern Argentina, the taxidermist pretends to be Dietrich's fellow partner in crime. He explains that Dietrich had to leave unexpectedly because of a potential police investigation.
During that time, he also develops a fascination with Dietrich's eerie pet, a wolf-dog (Eva) with one blue eye and one brown eye.
After a number of coincidences lead him ever closer to accomplishing his Perfect Robbery dream, the taxidermist makes a fatal mistake. Instead of the expected two guards in the casino's armored truck, there will be three. He tries to call his accomplices to warn them, but he suffers another epileptic seizure.
The perfect robbery will soon turn considerably less than perfect.
When asked by Amadeo Lukas if he was thinking of film audiences when he made El Aura / The Aura, Fabián Bielinsky replied: “Almost nothing, even though this is not a very good attitude when you have to think of a film as a product to be sold. In truth, film audiences won't find [in El Aura] an accessible or agreeable story. Also, the film doesn't show a bit of sympathy or good intentions for any of the characters. I'm talking not only about the near total lack of humor, but also that dramatic concessions were avoided in the screenplay.” Raíces del Cine (in Spanish)
In the above interview, Bielinsky also says that he wrote the role of the taxidermist without thinking of any particular actor, and that El Aura is not a thriller, but a “character study.”
“The [film's] theme is crime, but its structure allows for more discussions because … I decided to accept a series of brutal and dangerous breaks in the structure, because in a genre film audiences expect a certain type of structure and rhythm according to the rules of the genre in question. I opted to go on breaking those rules, so that things wouldn't happen when they were supposed to happen.” Interview with Jorge Letelier for Mabuse (in Spanish)
According to Taxidermy.Net, “Taxidermy is a general term describing the many methods of reproducing a life-like three-dimensional representation of an animal for permanent display. In some cases, the actual skin (including the fur, feathers or scales) of the specimen is preserved and mounted over an artificial armature. In other cases, the specimen is reproduced completely with man-made materials.”