(Drama/Thriller) A shy taxidermist who secretly dreams of executing the perfect robbery stumbles upon an opportunity. Caught up in a world of complexities and frightening violence, his lack of experience puts him in real danger. Plus, he is an epileptic. Before each seizure he is visited by the "aura'' -- a paradoxical moment of confusion and enlightenment where the past and future seem to blend. Argentina's official submission, Best Foreign Language Film for the 2006 Academy Awards.
The Aura will go down in history as a great film with a tragic loss attached to it. This totally original and deeply involving thriller was the second and final feature film by Fabián Bielinsky, a gifted Argentinian writer-director whose debut feature, Nine Queens, earned global acclaim and introduced Bielinsky as a talent to watch. Sadly, Bielinsky died of a sudden heart attack in June 2006, at age 47, and we'll never know what other great films he might have made. The Aura stands as testament to Bielinsky's masterful skill, on full display in this riveting study of a sad and lonely taxidermist named Espinosa (played by Ricardo Darín, who was also in Nine Queens) who compensates for his disappointing life by imagining elaborate crimes that he's planned to perfection. When a hunting accident results in the death of a criminal mastermind who'd been planning a casino heist, the taxidermist (who possesses a photographic memory and suffers from occasional blackouts caused by epileptic seizures) assumes the dead man's role, improvising his way through the crime-plot with untrustworthy partners and the constant threat of danger.
The film's title refers to the semi-conscious fugue state that precedes the taxidermist's epileptic seizures, inducing a sense of disorientation and dread that Bielinsky uses to deepen the film's psychological impact. Darín's dour, worried expression is a fascinating focal point for his character's unpredictable journey into the heart of darkness, and The Aura's primary setting, in the thick forest of Patagonia, is a perfect complement to the film's ominous atmosphere and deliberately paced intrigue. As far-fetched as it may seem at times, the plot's heightened reality remains utterly convincing, and Bielinsky demonstrates an uncanny knack for escalating suspense in quietly intense situations. From start to finish, The Aura is clearly the work of a filmmaker with seemingly limitless potential, and we can only wonder about the excellent films Bielinsky would have made had he lived. Unfortunately, two slight DVD extras on The Aura give us no insight into Bielinsky's too-short career: the "making of" featurette is very brief and consists primarily of an interview with Ricardo Darín, and the behind-the-scenes musical montage is an equally short and perfunctory assembly of production video set to the moody, electronic tones of Lucio Godoy's subtly effective score. --Jeff Shannon