‘Cinema is behind the story.’ Cristi Puiu

A welcome release for the second feature length film from Cristi Puiu, director of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), Aurora tells the story of a few days in the life of a working man with personal problems, with his insolent reactions to certain situations and eventually a series of deeply disturbing and deadly actions.

Viorel (Cristi Puiu) lives and works as an engineer in Bucharest, traversing the city and coping with day-to-day life as best he can, whether it involves apartment renovations, having to engage with neighbours or keep in touch with his family. Money, as with anyone, seems to cause issues. It might involve him getting cash back from a fellow worker to whom he has lent a small amount (and he will insist that one of the returned bills is somewhat scruffy, and restoration using sellotape is not a pleasant way of having to deal with it) or making sure he receives the correct change at the local shop. But, deep down in his mind, Viorel has far greater issues that he needs to resolve and a purpose to achieve. This requires the purchase of a gun, the right kind of course, and a series of episodes that will lead to him using the weapon in the correct manner and in the correct place. At least in the correct manner and the correct place as far as Viorel sees it.

Cristi Puiu, in a fascinating interview that accompanies this release as an extra, tells us about the creation of his film which shows us what – superficially – appears to be the story of a very ordinary life that is, in fact, deeply disturbed. Monty Python is cited as an influence, which may seem a strange choice for such an inherently serious work, but the instigation of surreal cruelty within normality is an integral part of much of their output and is reflected here (the 12A rating might conceal the fact that there are distinct elements of strangeness and cruelty, despite the fact that the film contains only ‘moderate violence, threat and gore’). Another aspect raised is that of a real life multiple murder case that Cristi Puiu had seen discussed and revealed in an excessively long television examination of the incident, which resulted not only in the inspiration for the basis of the film, but also the manner of its visualisation.

In constructing this strange tale, the camera often carefully takes the perspective of an impassive observer, either allowing long shots to record important aspects of the story but from a distance, or contrasting these with a composition that frames the scene through windows and doors. This has the effect of deliberately distancing the viewer from the immediacy of the action, providing a detached engagement with both the scenarios and characters. The past is only revealed when strictly necessary and breaks in time help balance the revelations, which can be shocking.

The film develops its unusual outlook in a number of ways. It is very slow, focussing on the minutia of Viorel’s life which is, for the most part, thoroughly mundane. Understanding his motivations is something that is not always clear to the viewer but his characterisation is consistent throughout. He’s odd but his links to crime or dubious practices (he appears to have a sideline as a petty loan shark) seem minor and his eventual purchase of a gun leads to an outcome that is both inevitable and disturbing. In many ways the violent acts in Aurora are all the more disqueting because they are not gratuitous or explicit but entirely part of the detached visual style within the story.

As the second in a proposed set of six films about life in Romania by Cristi Puiu, Aurora makes for fascinating viewing. Three hours well spent.