Thursday, June 30, 2011


Directed & written by Cristi Puiu
Starring Cristi Puiu

Opened June 29, 2011; released by Cinema Guild
IFC center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY

In 2005, Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu helped introduce the new Romanian film renaissance to North America. With its excruciatingly long takes of an the elderly protagonist dying by degrees in real time in Bucharest, Lazarescu established Puiu as a director of uncommon power and wit.

But the slow accumulation of ordinary events that gradually reveals the inner workings of brutish Bucharest society, which worked in spades in Lazarescu, doesn’t work at all in Puiu’s new film Aurora. For three hours, the antisocial protagonist (played by the taciturn director himself) goes about his menial business in real time, meeting but rarely connecting with other characters that include his former in-laws, his ex-wife’s notary, gun shop employees and his young daughter. An hour into the film, a murder is committed, and Puiu’s movie becomes quite risible after that, ending with an extended police station scene that seems a nod to the equally specious film Police Adjective by Puiu’s fellow Romanian Corneliu Porumboiu.

It is daring of Puiu to choose mundane subjects with which to develop his singular style. (There are apparently four more films on the way, all snippets of life in Bucharest.) His long takes, occasionally interrupted by startling cuts, can either mesmerize or put a viewer into a stupor: Lazarescu did the former, Aurora the latter. I’m still replaying images from Puiu’s first film in my mind, dealing as it did with a literal life-and-death situation. However, I’ve almost completely forgotten Aurora a mere 24 hours later: what was immediate, honest and grippingly real in the first film has become gimmicky and tendentious.

But Puiu is a talent worth watching who has a .500 batting average after two cinematic experiments. Let’s see where his next film leads him…and us.

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