The Aura
(El Aura)

The Aura
Made in: Argentina
Language: Spanish
Director: Fabian Bielinsky
Starring: Ricardo Darin, Walter Reyno, Pablo Cedrón, Dolores Fonzi, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Alejandro Awada, Manuel Rodal
Year: 2005

Synopsis: Esteban Espinosa (Ricardo Darin) is a quiet, epileptic taxidermist living in solitude. Highly intelligent and born with a flawless photographic/spatial memory, he has an obsession with mentally constructing perfect crimes. This is a very weird hobby, since he's never been in trouble with the law or even gotten into a fight before in his whole life.

Suffering from random seizures, each attack somehow transports him to a mental place he calls "The Aura," which gives him a few moments of enlightenment and clarity.

Reluctantly joining his colleague Sontag (Alejandro Awada) on a hunting trip far away in an isolated Patagonian forest, Espinosa and Sontag rent a cabin from a young woman named Diana (Dolores Fonzi) and her unfriendly brother Julio (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart). At one point Espinosa and Sontag get separated. While scoping a deer, Espinosa accidentally shoots and kills Carlos Dietrich (Manuel Rodal), who's actually Diana's husband.

In the absence of witnesses (and vice presidents), Espinosa does not report the incident. And when he learns that Dietrich himself was currently involved in planning the complex heist of an armored car transporting loads of cash, Espinosa inserts himself as a major player in the plot in an effort to cover up the unintentional shooting.

He then encounters the accomplices: One is a crooked casino manager (Jorge D'Elía), and two are professional thieves, Montero (Walter Reyno) and Sosa (Pablo Cedrón), who have been in cahoots with Dietrich from the beginning.

Now Espinosa has no choice but to mastermind the perfect crime that he so often envisioned in his mind. His brilliant intellect allows him stay one step ahead of the other criminals and quell most suspicions about his role in the heist. But with no practical experience in criminal activity and living under the constant threat of sudden epileptic seizures, Espinosa may be in way over his head as the plot becomes more complicated at every turn...

Remarks: Incredibly complex and smart, The Aura is a subtle, methodically paced thriller that captivates. Ricardo Darin, who worked with director Fabian Bielinsky before in the acclaimed Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens), is terrific as the protagonist. He plays a believable genius whose analytic mind not only masterminds perfect crimes, but quickly weaves the cons that help keep him out of trouble.

The Aura is effective on two levels. One is the nature of the story itself. After all, it's a heist plot involving mysterious details and characters, the build-up is great, and all the events leave you wanting to know what's going to happen next.

The second noteworthy element of this movie are the deeper subtexts. Espinosa describes the involuntary surrender to his occasional epileptic seizures, his descent into the Aura, as a mind-liberating experience. There's a sense of freedom within that imprisonment.

And in regards to his involvement with the armored car robbery, the plans necessary for carrying it out have been made possible through the freedom of his imaginative "heist fantasies." But now he's trapped into having to follow through with it in reality, which includes facing real-world consequences and threatening real lives. Fabian Bielinsky deftly balances these themes, making this film a rich experience.

From a cinematic perspective, the isolation of the Patagonian forest and muted colors create a powerful look and feel that reinforces the dark theme. This is definitely a departure from Bielinsky's slick and stylistic Nueve Reinas but The Aura, despite it's slower pace, is just as exciting and intense. The story development is brilliant as well, since the plot thickens in unpredictable ways and leave us wondering how all the pieces of the puzzle will eventually fit.

Who would like this movie: The Aura is for you if you like complex and psychological thrillers. This is a highly intelligent and enjoyable film which you have to pay extremely very close attention to. In other words, don't watch it while drunk or distracted because you will miss important stuff and get lost.

As compelling as it is, this is not a movie you watch as straightforward entertainment. Although this is not one of those "artsy weird" foreign films because it follows a logical storyline with believable characters, check it out only if you're making a conscious effort to try something a little different.

(3 and 1/2 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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