The Aura
IFC Films // Unrated // $19.95 // April 10, 2007
Review by Svet Atanasov | posted April 10, 2007
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The Film:

An aging epileptic (Espinoza, Ricardo Darin) with a boring life plans the perfect heist. The entry, the timing, the arms, the way out, everything is in Espinoza's head. It has been there for some time!

While waiting to collect his pay Espinoza reveals his plan to fellow-taxidermist Sontag (Alejandro Awada). Surprised, intrigued, but somewhat dismissive Sontag invites his friend on a hunting trip in the mountains. There after an epileptic seizure Espinoza accidentally shoots a local man with a murky past.

The dead man's home provides Espinoza with an opportunity to play out his dream. He follows up on it and finds himself caught in a dangerous game with plenty of unknown players.

Undeservedly compared to Christopher Nolan's hugely successful thriller Memento (2000) last year Fabian Belinsky's El Aura was selected by the Argentinean Film Academy as the country's official Oscar entry. Sadly, this also proved to be the talented director's last picture as he unexpectedly passed away at the age of 47.

A complex exploration of one man's degeneration into a criminal El Aura relies on a relatively straightforward script where occasional memory flashbacks are used to highlight key fragments from the story. Yet, from the moment the audience is introduced to Espinoza it becomes evident that even though all the talk and action in this picture concern a possible heist Belinsky's interest lies somewhere else. As confirmed by the manner in which the action unfolds through large blocks of silence, an ambient soundtrack, and suggestive breaks in pacing it is Espinoza's mental transformation that takes precedence over everything else.

Such intricate approach to storytelling certainly isn't new. In 2001 Claire Denis directed the controversial Trouble Every Day where even though the story gravitated around a duo of cannibalistic lovers and plenty of gruesome imagery Denis' interest was anything but related to cannibalism. It was the erosion of humanity which the French director was infatuated with.

Quite similar is the scheme Belinsky follows in El Aura. Even though a crime is constantly being discussed by the main protagonists by the time it is actually committed the audience is more interested in what takes place in Espinoza's head rather than how he would manage to evade trouble. Logically, El Aura's strongest point is its ability to maintain a crucial balance between the obvious (crime) and the obscure (Espinoza's thought process).

Finally, Belinsky's film would have not been this convincing if not for Argentinean veteran Ricardo Darin. Precise, mystic, full of finesse his acting truly is the reason why El Aura succeeds. Silence never felt this good, especially in a film clocking in well-over two hours.

How Does the DVD Look?

Those of you locked in R1 land hoping for a decent release of El Aura are up for a terrible disappointment of paramount proportions. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 the print provided by IFC Films is shockingly not enhanced for widescreen TVs! I don't know who was responsible for this enormous gaffe but I hope that the powers to be in the company producer certainly take a look at this fiasco as I can not believe that such a recent production which also happens to be an Oscar nominated feature can be handled this poorly!

This being said the print appears to be in a somewhat decent condition: colors are relatively sharp and vivid, contrast is manageable, and I could not detect any intrusive print damage. I did notice a minor dose of digital noise but for the most part it is rather tolerable. Still, I am shocked just as everyone else who has seen this print already that in this day and age a major company would knowingly approve such a mediocre presentation.

How Does the DVD Sound?

I am going to be honest with you: even though supposedly there is a DD 5.1 track on this disc I am having a very hard time acknowledging it. Belinsky's film has an enormously subtle sound construction (as mentioned the ambient soundtrack and the presence of silence are crucial here) and I simply don't hear enough of what should be, I believe, enhanced here. I don't have the Spanish disc to make a direct comparison but suffice to say I am not impressed. This being said, the dialog is easy to follow and there were no disturbing audio drop-outs or hissing. With optional English subtitles.


Aside from the theatrical trailer for the film you will also find two totally pointless, very short, extras titled "The Aura Behind-the-Scenes: A Musical Montage" and "Making The Aura" which seem to elaborate on what is more or less obvious. Given that there are no substantial extras on the Spanish disc either I suppose we can be happy with what has been provided.

Final Thoughts:

This IFC Films-produced disc is an enormously disappointing and as far as I am concerned alarming release. In less than a week I had the opportunity to review two of their upcoming discs (the other one being the Spanish drama Princesas) and both discs were, to put it mildly, of poor quality. I am unsure who is in charge with IFC Films and their quality control department but this is clearly not how an Oscar-nominated film should be sold to consumers. Think twice before you purchase as the company producer, as of this moment, is not to be trusted!!

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