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Out of the Shadows: Cristi Puiu’s “Aurora”

Out of the Shadows: Cristi Puiu's "Aurora"

Even more so than his much heralded The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Cristi Puiu’s Aurora is a monument to the quotidian. Or is it the quotidian made monumental? Everyday life seems at once faithfully recorded and amplified in Puiu’s films: carefully observed studies of average men—Lazarescu’s eponymous ailing sixty-something; the terse loner at the center of Aurora—whose prolonged running times and sheer accumulation of detail force us to consider the complicated undercurrents churning beneath what we might dismiss as “commonplace” happenings. In Lazarescu, this attentive gaze became a spotlight, illuminating the defective inner workings of Romania’s post-Communist health care system as seen through the experiences of one dying man. Too attentive to the contradictory flux of human experience to churn out a simplistic “exposé” of medical and bureaucratic dysfunction, Puiu’s camera remains interested in everything that passes before it, expanding its view to note the precise way a long-married couple bickers over household tasks, or recognizing the oasis of relief that comes from finding a trusted colleague amidst a whirlwind of professional chaos. Nevertheless, the film’s argumentative thrust feels clear, and intrinsically tied to Puiu’s detail-oriented eye. The depth of the medical establishment’s ineffectiveness—and the inability of well-meaning individuals to break through its inertia—becomes clear through the ever-growing cavalcade of arrogant physicians and dismissive nurses that Lazarescu encounters over the course of one long night. Maddening structural failures get refracted through the lens of familiar human failings, making them feel at once revelatory and recognizable. Read Matt Connolly’s review of Aurora.

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