Cristi Puiu’s Aurora

Posted: July 5, 2012 in Directors, My Preciuos
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Cristi Puiu is one of those directors who respect their audience. Although profoundly personal, at times even idiosyncratic, his latest film, Aurora seems to be an attempt to a dialogue with the audience and also, an attempt to hold up a mirror to all of us watching. How does a person end up killing someone? What would it take for me to kill someone? And how would a person have to be in order to decide and be able to kill someone? Does it take a certain type of person? Could you tell, if you were his neighbor? Or does it take a certain type of society, a certain type of inter-personal life (or the lack of it) to drive someone to murder?
Puiu does not make it easy for his audience to follow his film or his hero (excellently played by Puiu himself – hence another idiosyncratic aspect). This is one of those rare films that necessitates patience but rewards it plentifully by slowly captivating the viewer and, what is most important, at least for me, by becoming reflexive: drawing attention to the viewing experience, thus making the film as much about the hero as about the viewer. How are we present among people around us? How do we see them? How do they see us?
The main feature of the film, as I see it, is the brilliant camerawork. And this is because the camera succeeds in inducing a paradoxical double effect of an intruding intimacy and exclusion at the same time. It made me feel like I was too close and still missing out on something. Sometimes the camera is like a person, wandering and lingering around the scenes, aimlessly, not quite sure why. Other times it becomes an inert object, accidentally left on a piece of furniture or in a corner and it seems it just happens to record whatever is right in front of it. If this is a wall and half of a door opening, so be it. This complex camerawork achieves the paradoxical effect I mentioned before.
The camera provides intimacy, a sense of being there, close to the hero and the events. But this intimacy is not the “all-knowing” godlike perspective of a Hollywood audience. It is more of an intruding intimacy which comes with the sense of “I am not supposed to be here”, the guilty intimacy of peeping on your neighbors. We are there in the film as a real person would be in one of the rooms in the guy’s apartment or on the streets where he walks. And as such, we don’t follow him everywhere; sometimes when he goes to the kitchen, we don’t go after him; sometimes we hear fragments of his conversation without quite understanding what he is talking about. We sometimes see and hear things without quite knowing how to piece them together. And this induces the second, more frustrated impression. This kind of realistic camera-presence makes us anxious, frustrated, impatient at times. With all the closeness, we still can’t see, we still can’t hear and we still can’t understand.
So the film seriously challenges our “fill in the blanks” capacities. As a film-fool, first I tried to guess what was going on relying on film precedents. My mistake was that I tried to understand the guy as a character in a film. The frustration came from the fact that we were thought and conditioned to expect a coherent, explanatory narrative from a film. We got used to things being spelled out for us, for example people talking to each other and mentioning their relation to each other (so that the audience knows) or the antecedents of their conversations (so that the audience understands). But real people around us don’t talk like that, do they? We don’t talk like that. We don’t follow people around us everywhere, not even when they are close family members, we don’t go after them every time they walk out of the room we are in.
But then again, we rarely follow strangers into the shower. That is why the long shower scene shocks with its intimacy and closeness. Precisely as until then the camera has created that realistic yet paradoxical intimacy-intrusion mood, watching the guy shower and check his testicles for lumps comes as almost an embarrassment for the audience. How would you feel if you happen to catch your neighbor doing that?
That is how, slowly the realistic atmosphere of the film sucked me in and I completely forgot about other films. I became that frustrated neighbor, half-enjoying peeping in, half-embarrassed by being there and all the time quite frustrated for not being able to understand. I was faced with my own incapability to understand the people around me. I was forced to think about all the people I pass by or come in daily contact with, yet still know nothing about them.
All in all, the atmosphere of the film reveals the strangeness and otherness of the other, the impossibility to penetrate into another consciousness and state of mind, no matter how close and intimate we get to it physically. If anyone expects the portrait of a murderer, he are she will be quite disappointed. What we get is the portrait of a person who feels very real and very close and who just happens to be a murderer. We don’t get nicely coherent psychological explanations; we don’t get to understand the reasons behind the murders. In the end, we are left, again, in the role of the eternal neighbor who, when asked by the police or the press declares himself surprised as the murderer “seemed like a nice, quiet, ordinary person”. And the point is not to suggest that anyone of your neighbors could be a murderer, but to pose the question: could you be one? Could it be that we live so close to each-other yet so far away that our contacts with each other remain at the level of peeping in and watching each other move about?
The final scene at the police department is in a quite sharp contrast with the rest of the film. It is almost like an ironic laugh-in-the-face in which Puiu offers some factual information to the frustrated viewer, as if asking: there, now you know these facts, does it help you understand? Does it make you care more? And judging by the attitude of the police, knowing all the facts certainly doesn’t make us care. The detectives are more preoccupied with their immediate, mundane problems (a disputed parking space, a misbehaving coffee machine). Isn’t this also our excuse for not knowing and not caring enough about each other? Aren’t we all too sucked into our missed buses, leaking installations and petty business? No wonder then that for the police murder seems to be just a collection of facts gathered according to a form that must be filled out, the beginning of a formal procedure through which, no doubt, the murderer will be charged, condemned and sentenced to prison. Nobody cares about the guy’s reasons, he is repeatedly instructed to stick to the facts, state his ID number and address, the names of the victims, the place and time of murder. The comedy effect of this scene is all the more disturbing as it is inevitable. Why are we laughing? Who are we laughing at?


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