"The Aura" begins with a promising enough premise: A taxidermist (Ricardo Darin)--his "nobody" anonymity underscored by his namelessness--toils away and daydreams of committing the perfect crime when, as in the recent release "13 Tzameti," a sudden death opens up a dangerously exciting opportunity. Add to this the protagonist's photographic memory and ability to vividly visualize events before they occur, not to mention late Argentinean filmmaker Fabian Bielinsky's evocative forest setting of pallid greens and fluorescent light, and the elements for a superlative slow-simmering potboiler seem to be in place. Oh, and one more tantalizing character trait which puts straight-up the looming fatality of the lead's undertaken mission from the start: He suffers from epilepsy.
The title refers to a sensation he experiences immediately before a seizure, the properties of which the sympathetically spacey and disheveled Darin at one point poetically expounds upon: "It's horrible and it's perfect. Because during those few seconds, you're free. There's no choice; there's no alternative; nothing for you to decide. Everything tightens up, gets narrower...and you surrender yourself." His condition, of course, allows him a unique perspective, and provides insight into how such a mild-mannered man--he can barely bring himself to shoot a deer when out on the hunting expedition that ultimately lands him in another's shoes--comes to recklessly insert himself front-and-center into an armored car robbery. His muted sense of reality, which his acquaintanceship with "the aura" grants him, encourages an observational distance, so much so that he follows a man after a separate botched burglary and watches him die with clinical detachment; he conceives of life as a mathematical experiment full of certainties. Long feeling himself separate from the world at large, this is his attempt to take an active part in it.
Yet despite these riveting details at its disposal, "The Aura" fails to coalesce. While his popular "Nine Queens" was a straightforwardly shallow heist flick, this sophomore feature seeks to expand into emotional territory and invites existentialist contemplation in ways that don't substantially pan out. Like its predecessor, it holds our attention but--taking on the pose of something more ponderous with its lengthy running time and woodsy imagery in support of a moody meditation--with its concatenation of circumstances lacking a loftier payoff, it feels like a letdown. Then again, viewed in another light, my indifference to the film could perhaps be interpreted as success of a kind: Though not trance-inducing, "The Aura" keeps you at a watchful arm's length, inducing a strange disconnectedness akin to that which the character experiences.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Kristi Mitsuda is a Reverse Shot staff writer and works at New York's Film Forum.