As the second film in his Six Stories from the Outskirts of Bucharest series, Cristi Puiu’s follow-up to the film that was the standard-bearer for new Romanian cinema, The Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005), clocking in at three-hours in length and testing the viewer with its disassociated events, Aurora proves to be no less gruelling than its predecessor, if perhaps this time not as ultimately satisfying.
The two films made so far adhere to what is turning out to be a rather unconventional treatment of the series’ theme of looking at different aspects of love. Certainly there was something found to be seriously lacking on that point in The Death of Mr Lazarescu’s devastating exploration of love for one’s fellow man, and in Aurora, where the subject is ostensibly that of love between a man and a woman, the approach takes a similarly unconventional, and one might even say cynical, approach.
Unconventional perhaps, but unfortunately not original either, and it’s questionable whether Cristi Puiu gets to the heart of the matter in the way that he did in his previous film, but, like Lazarescu, Aurora is not so much trying to tell us anything new, as much as challenging the prevailing attitudes towards such a subject as they appear in more conventionally made films with their improbable dramatic narrative structures. Rather the approach seems designed to question rather whether we can really ever understand another person’s actions or what drives their behaviour and interaction, particularly – as is the theme of the series – when it comes to the subject of love.
The main character of Aurora, Viorel (played by the director Cristi Puiu himself in an effort to truly get beneath the surface and try and understand why the man acts as he does), is a man who is going to kill for love. A divorced man, with two children, the film follows his restless activity over the period of one day as he prepares for a confrontation with some of those who have made his life difficult, and find a resolution to his predicament in the only way he knows how.
The approach to Aurora is, unsurprisingly for this director, naturalistic and understated. In its low-key approach to a violent incident, where it is difficult to determine which actions are meaningful and what might be underlying triggers or motives that drive them, there is something of Michael Haneke (pioneered in The Seventh Continent and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance and repeated thereafter) by way of the long drawn-out east European intensity of Béla Tarr. With its oblique treatment towards basic moral questions however, particularly in relation to how those matters are complicated by a social background in a former Eastern Bloc Communist country, there’s more of an influence of Kieslowski’s Dekalog (particularly A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love) than Eric Rohmer, whose Six Moral Tales are said to have inspired Puiu’s series.
Explaining nothing, using minimal dialogue and not following the familiar cinematic structure, Puiu clearly wants to show that cinema has other ways of putting a message across. Aurora does have an effective slow burning quality in this respect and certainly succeeds is creating a convincing and almost unbearably tense environment for what is to later occur, but rather than find any new means of expression, the same point that was effectively made in Lazarescu is driven home yet again at the end of Aurora – the police officers no more capable of comprehending or responding to Viorel’s actions on any real humanitarian level other than through the following of inadequate formal procedures. Taking three hours to get there however is expecting rather much from a cinema audience, and one would consequently hope that the director will have something different to say, and find a new means of saying it in the remaining films of the series.