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Hot Property: Aurora

Reasons to Be Miserable

Now that the Romanian New Wave has reached critical mass, why, one wonders, has no distributor picked up Cristi Puiu’s second feature? Has the RNW backlash already begun? Or could it be because the film clocks in at a fully palpable three hours and one minute? Rumor has it that the director will trim-slash-carve Aurora down to a more viewer-friendly running time—but given the film’s meticulous design and extremely fastidious pacing, that would amount to nothing less than aesthetic castration.

Puiu, who appears in practically every frame, cast himself as the hangdog lead in this, his first on-screen role. He plays a man with an evident yet unspecified malaise. His gloomy attitude escalates from abstract moodiness to homicidal violence, but the reasons for his behavior are held at bay until film’s end. That, of course, is part and parcel of the narrative’s slow boil.

Everything that takes place feels so deliberately orchestrated that the seeming meaninglessness of certain actions become charged with, er, “meaning.” For example, when the character takes a shower in his decrepit bathroom, in a sequence that puts Puiu’s not-exactly-perfect body on display, the audience is given a chance to linger over the image of the antihero lathering, lathering, and . . . lathering. And then, again with the soap, Puiu shows him noticing something of interest on the ceiling. As it turns out, the upstairs neighbors have a sprung leak. That this man actually cares about cosmetic damage to his already damaged existence is a classic example of RNW poetry.

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