auroraIs this film available for rent on Netflix Watch Instant, the iTunes Store, and Amazon Prime? Aurora is not available for rent through Netflix Watch Instant, the iTunes Store, or Amazon Prime. It is currently available for rent only through DVD/Blu-ray.

Starring: Cristi Puiu, Clara Voda, Valeria Seciu, Gelu Colceag, Luminta Gheorghiu, Gigi Ifrim, Lucian Ifrim, Carmela Culda, Ileana Puiu

Directed by: Cristi Puiu

Written By: Cristi Puiu

Why does every Eastern European film have to be dark, emotionless, and depressing? Was life under Communist totalitarian and repressive regimes so bad? Obviously, Eastern European filmmakers are not in the business of entertaining their audiences unless ruining your day and boring the complete shit out of you is your idea of entertainment. Today’s Eastern European cinema is what avant-garde German cinema must have been like in the 1970’s. I can imagine a smoke-filled movie theater somewhere in an industrial part of Romania where everyone is dressed in black turtlenecks, sporting shades, and sharing the same dour outlook on life as the filmmakers obviously do. If you cannot tell from this little diatribe, I am a firm believer in the not-widely-adopted notion that movies serve to primarily entertain, even when they intend to educate their audience.

Acclaimed Romanian filmmaker Cristi Puiu’s 2010 film, Aurora, falls squarely into my above description. Puiu is considered one of the pioneers of Romanian New Wave cinema, which began in the mid-2000’s with Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005) (winner of the Un Certain Regard at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival). Films of the Romanian New Wave are usually either set in the late 1980’s at the end of Nicolae Ceausescu’s totalitarian regime (stop me if this is too much history for you) or in modern-day Romania where they deal with how capitalism and democracy have changed the country since 1989. These films are characterized by an aesthetic look that is stark, minimalist, and realist. One thing to keep in mind about the Romanian New Wave is that this movement came much later than it did in countries like Britain, France, and Italy and that is due to the Romanian government’s tight control over its filmmakers. Up until Ceausescu’s fall, the only filmmaking that really went on in Romania was propaganda pieces. However, a decade and a half after Romania became democratic, the Romanian New Wave emerged and it has gained worldwide recognition among film art house audiences and critics.

Aurora is about an engineer named Viorel (Cristi Puiu), who has just gone through a messy divorce and (I think) is having problems at work. He now lives by himself in a small apartment that appears to be in an abandoned state of renovation. Viorel is distraught over his divorce and so he methodically plans out the murder of his now ex-wife.

The premise sounds interesting enough and one would imagine that such a simple story would not take more than an hour and a half or two hours (at most) to tell. Let me be the bearer of bad news by dispelling both of these assumptions. Puiu, who produced, directed, and starred in Aurora takes THREE HOURS to tell a story in which very little happens. If I could time how long it takes for all the significant scenes to occur, it would probably not be more than half an hour. For the remainder of that time, we literally see the main character of Viorel walking or driving from one place to another with no or very little reason or he is staring at some object or a person without saying a word. Cristi Puiu’s aesthetic style is to shoot very long shots through mainly static camera angles that gives the scenes a fly-on-the-wall perspective. A scene in this film can seemingly take forever in which absolutely nothing happens. I know it is cliché when one compares something to watching paint dry. However, Aurora is as appropriate a film as any to fit that description – for the vast majority of this film, it would have made no difference whether I watched Viorel lumber about doing God knows what or if the camera had simply focused on a wall covered with fresh paint.

The long stretches of boredom are punctuated by very brief moments of intensity, which when they occur, it is akin to being given food and water after enduring days of torture. I really got into these scenes, but I could not tell whether my interest in them was because these scenes were genuinely interesting or whether my boredom made me desperately yearn for anything remotely interesting that would break the boredom. Viorel is clearly a disturbed and angry individual, but so little of the character’s feelings and thoughts are revealed. During the entirety of the film, he does not utter more than a few lines of dialogue. Not that being silent is a bad thing because after all, some timeless classics have been made from the silent era of cinema. However, here, so much of what we see Viorel do goes unexplained and there is not enough information to understand what he is doing. We are left with watching a depressed man go through the mundane rituals of life, albeit a life where he makes preparations to blow his wife away.

Normally when I see a movie that lacks in both story and character development, I put out some hope that the film can at least be salvaged in its visuals and music. I’m sorry to disappoint you on this front as well. Like I stated before, like other films of the Romanian New Wave, Aurora uses a muted, cold, and monochromatic color pallet in which the imagery is grainy and highly textured. Puiu employs a static camera approach to give his film a quasi-documentary feel so you don’t see any crane, dolly, or steadycam shots or any quirky angles. As for sound, since the film’s style is documentary, there is no sound design and any music you hear is incidental background music that is played on the radio or television. In short, don’t be expecting to see any beautiful cinematography or hear a beautiful film score by a Romanian composer.

I perfectly understand that Cristi Puiu intended to give us an antiseptic and mundane look at random violence. What I do not understand is why he would do such a thing? Why would audience members want to see anything mundane on the screen when they just simply observe their own lives if they want that effect? The director goes way too far in making his film’s violent undertones feel like one more bit of the modern malaise. At times I felt that Puiu holds a snobby disregard for the principles of entertainment or patience. He offers zero insight into his character and the things his character does (taking a shower, waiting in line to buy his meal, drive to some drab location, or hide behind trucks to spy on people) is hardly compelling. Even when the film’s plot thickens during the halfway point (where Voirel kills his wife), the film fails to generate an ounce of interest and by then you will have already given up on the film. If the Romanian New Wave cinema is anything like Aurora, it will be a short-lived movement.