Aurora is the latest from internationally acclaimed writer/director Cristi Puiu, whose last film, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), won Un Certain Regard at Cannes. The film is the second in what is planned to be a series of films, “Six Stories from the Outskirts of Bucharest.”
For viewers who are not a fan of slow-burn cinema (this movie clocks in at 3 hours 3 minutes), little to no dialogue (the main character utters, at most, 10 sentences in the first 2 and half hours), and long, drawn out shots, this film may be pitilessly loathsome. For viewers who don’t mind the aforementioned things, the film may still be pitilessly loathsome.
Cristi Puiu plays the main character Viorel who has just divorced from his wife, with whom he has two daughters. Viorel is a man nearing the end of his tether – he does a double-take when looking at his car, his lightswitch, his peephole and especially his ringing telephone. The film follows Viorel as he sits outside of a factory, sits in traffic, spies on a family, and eats a sandwich, all essentially in real time.
Not much is explained throughout the movie; the viewer more or less has to try to put the pieces together on their own. This is made all
the more evident in the cinematography from Viorel Sergovici, whose shooting style is that of a curious onlooker simply observing what is happening. This combination of little dialogue, long shots, and, at times, uncomfortably intimate cinematography leaves the viewer waiting for Viorel to finally tip the edge and lash out in violence against the people that he feels have diminished his self worth.
Throughout the film, moments of near tedium are interspersed with flashes of violence. Often, this violence is unexplained, leaving the viewer feeling unnerved and, indeed, alienated from Viorel. This alienation is made all the more uncomfortable in comparison with the extreme, and even frustratingly mundane thoroughness with with we view other aspects of his life. In the end, he explains it all, though rather vaguely. During his explanation he admits that it scares him that others may understand his reasoning.
The film came across as a critique of the society of modern day Romania. The alienation created between the viewer and the character seem almost to parallel the state of alienation between society and its members, perhaps especially in modern-day Romania. In an interview with the New York Times, Puiu said “This film is about what I think is the relationship between human beings.” He added, “I don’t know what real life is like outside Romania, but in Bucharest, where I live, relationships are pretty brutal.” The film serves as a reminder that in modern society, not only in Romania, moments of violence are often as everyday as a man eating a sandwich. Aurora is a portrait of a man unhinged in a society that, in his mind, seems almost not to care. A comment on our disconnect with morality, Aurora presents a bleak picture of Romania, and of society as a whole.