Slow release storytelling from Romanian director Cristi Puiu
My, but he makes you work for it, that Cristi Puiu. His breakout second film, The Death of Mr Lazarescu, a tentpole title of the sudden millennial rash of new Romanian masterpieces, was a long shaggy dog story the wit, sly radicalism and emotional intensity of which asserted themselves slowly, but powerfully enough to leave you pretty much panting by the end. Its follow-up Aurora – finally on the release radar long after a 2010 Cannes bow - takes the painstaking Puiu MO to a yet further extreme.
The director himself – possessed of one of those implacable Eastern European faces that communicates little but that its owner has more sad and pressing things to do than smile – plays Viorel, a put-upon divorcé with a secret. The long, long set-up has a problem, in that once its shocking reveal has been revealed, Puiu spends a good while simply reiterating it.
The sustaining factor here is the breathtaking cinematography: Puiu and cinematographer Viorel Sergovici have a near-magical way of turning low-rent urban environments into lushly painterly compositions, somehow without depleting their authenticity. In this the film rather resembles Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s recent Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. There were those who found that film testing in its slow-release storytelling. Those people were wrong – it is awesome – but are still advised to avoid Aurora, which makes Ceylan’s film look like 2 Fast 2 Furious.
If you’re down with delayed but intense gratification, however, roll on up. Well over an hour in (yep…), Puiu’s storytelling sleight of hand and startling sense of humour kick in hard. This is a less satisfying work that Mr Lazarescu; it’s just too evasive, too exacting in the level of patience it demands. But it does reward close attention - and its final act comes very close to being worth one of cinema’s more epic waits.
Selected release from Fri 9 Nov.