Removing at least an hour from Aurora, Cristi Puiu’s follow-up to 2005’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, wouldn’t alter its plot or themes one iota, a situation that makes this three-hour portrait of stasis and emptiness a monumental slog to endure. Viorel (Puia himself) roams the Romanian countryside with, initially, no apparent motive or destination in mind; only after the better part of an hour does it become clear, through his purchase of firing pins and then a 12-gauge shotgun, that murder is his aim. While he subsequently assembles the firearm and tries out self-inflicted shot positions, his targets are others – first, a man and woman in an underground garage, and later, an elderly couple with whom he has some sort of close relationship. Puiu offers no internal life for his cruel, stone-faced protagonist and offers no telling behavior that might reflect his inner character. Rather, he’s just a hollow man in a grey, garbage-strewn environment where loners traverse train tracks, grungy apartments in need of remodeling, and other mundane locales with homicide on their minds.
At least a third of Aurora is dedicated to wholly inconsequential action that reveals nothing about anything, thereby relegating its observation of Viorel to a vacuous approximation of Jeanne Dielman’s rigorous everyday-routine-fixated gaze, not to mention one that lacks the dry social-satire wit of Lazarescu. Violence is brutish and quick in Puiu’s tale, but given the meaningless of so many of its incidents, the film fails to generate much in the way of suspense from its more menacing moments (including a clothing store spat). A superb final scene not only delivers all the plot details that had previously been withheld (although the most predictable explanation proves to be the correct one), but also the much-needed droll comedy that had generally been missing from the rest of the proceedings. Alas, it’s a closing gesture far too little too late, what with the majority of the film generating so little tension, humor or insight – into, among other rudimentarily addressed topics, the banality of evil and the clueless inefficiency of the Romanian justice system – that it often succeeds only as a form of cinematic punishment.
2010 New York Film Festival