Monday, March 21, 2011


“écrire c’est toucher au trou qui fait qu’on y manque, au monde, qu’on le manque, et que c’est ce trou qui fait qu’on parle, ou, autre façon de proposition, que du fait qu’on parle on ouvre le trou entre lui et nous qu’écrire ça creuse un peu plus le trou du trou…”
Christian Prigent

What Christian Prigent says of poetry, Cristi Puiu might have said of filmmaking: “making a film is touching the hole that makes it that we are missing, from the world, that we are missing it, and it is this hole that makes us make films or, another way of saying it, that by making films we open the hole between the world and ourselves, that making a film digs a little further into the hole of the hole…”

“Aurora” is about distance. THE distance, that “hole” between us and the world. The deep gaze of Cristi Puiu, author, actor and director, opens this “hole” and mirrors it, tempts us to look into an abyss that only rarely dare we contemplate. But here, this abyss is, in fact, all we look into, for three hours on end. Something happens that closes the loop, something makes it possible for the snake to swallow its tail/tale, something enclosed in this equation of the author who thought up the character and then who went ahead and incarnated it. 

Something happened to Viorel, Puiu's character. What exactly happened is NOT IMPORTANT. Nor is what we see on the screen.  Yes, in so many words. But now, here he is, on the verge of ending lives and, implicitly, of ending his own universe. Which had been made unwhole by some events, which some people had dug a big hole into. That hole is about to spread and its agent is now Viorel. Murder is just a way of ending someone's universe, but there are others, more subtle, leaving one raw and incapable to cope, day after day. How many of our fellow humans are just that, people whose universe was shred to pieces but who simply survive themselves and those OTHERS, empty stares masked by Xanax or other “mood enhancers”? We will never know. Viorel is someone who is out of Xanax, to whom, cherry on top, an improper medical system has denied that drug -- but, hey, how is that important, these mood altering substances are only decades old and they are not the issue here, the DISTANCE is the issue here, and the Others, and how some of us cannot resist the pressure anymore and do the things we read about and make us cringe. Here we have Viorel, one of these many criminals, who are just people who follow their thoughts to the end of what has become their ordeal, their life ruined. Here is someone who "rises" from his ruins to spread ruin in his turn. But that doesn't describe it. Nothing can describe it, Puiu tried his best using himself and a camera and all I have are words... I can only object to the words "rise", "ruins", "spread ruin", "his turn". What's left? "Here is someone". There you have it. And this someone kills.

So what if there is a woman who spends nights with him. Does she love him? Does he mean anything to her? Does he love her? Does she mean anything to him? We don’t know and we don’t care, as we understand from the hero’s gaze that neither does him. The distance is too great between these characters. The game is elsewhere. His life is elsewhere or, rather, is nowhere else to be found. Not anymore? Has it ever been somewhere or has this distance consumed it, always?

Viorel is distant and measuring distance. Like any good engineer. And so become we, the audience, we take part in his distances to the others. We'd practice them, too, we come to understand and relate to many of these distances. But some of those distances, some of those gaps and holes are his, Viorel's.  We relate to that, too, and thus we measure a distance between us and Viorel. 

Puiu does the same as he builds the film. We sense that there was first a story, then there was a set, then there were the people on the set and Puiu taking care of it and then Puiu in front of the camera and Puiu behind it and then Puiu doing the editing. We feel all these tiny distances in this ritual of proximity, dare we call it dance, or simply Puiu's cinema, which we come to experience for three hours: Puiu, Viorel, viewer. Actually, make that four: there is the camera as well. The odd man out -- the director of photography. Here, it even gets comical at times. There was a moment, maybe the darkest of all, when Puiu and Viorel went upstairs and we were left with the "camera" to stare at a wall, while Viorel, presumably with Puiu's hands (but we can't know for sure) was committing the first murder. "Murder". "Killing"? But no, "directing/editing Puiu" was there, with us, laughing maybe. He's there all the time, watching Viorel, with us, post "factum". Like when the Shostakovich music starts playing, out of nowhere. Those are encounters with Puiu the director that amount to some kind of  "entr'actes". It's as if Puiu felt the distance growing too much and he needed his audience, he needed to pat our backs, to say hello, to diminish the distance between us and him and increase the distance between him and his character.  He held his hand to us, almost drowning? Or because he was afraid we might? Anyway, those were pure moments of poetry. Or, should I risk it, "puitry"... Why not, these are just words...

Viorel is spying on some other people – we understand quickly enough that those must be his ex-wife and his children, who now live with his former parents in law, who had a hand in the dissolution of his marriage. At the same time, we sense he is spying on himself, measuring that distance. At no time does he stop doing that before going to the police. And even then, he attempts to hold the distance between himself and the detectives, he is demanding his "due respect" -- that the distance be preserved. In his carefully measured world, where words should mean what the dictionary indicates and roles should be played as they were meant to be played and everyone should integrate into their proper slot and keep all distances correct, nothing bad would happen. But once these distances get muddled, engineer Viorel dissipates into badly contained anger.  Let words be words, let there be no hidden words and hidden truths, or else let the belongings be split into half and let toy soldiers return to the former child's nightstand.

I had no issues following what happens in this film, contrary to what others reported. Maybe it’s because I saw a later cut. Maybe it was because I was paying particular attention, as I had been warned that it can become confusing. But, to me, if anything, the film was too… explicit! I found myself cringing at what amounted, in that universe, to… too much information! I felt my astuteness less than challenged sometimes and I mildly resented that... But I can understand those who became lost on the way. If the interior of Romanian blocks of flats doesn’t speak to you and your eye is not trained to sense the differences and gets lost in the similarities of these spaces, maybe you will become lost at some point. I’m trying to figure this out because, as I said, I never once felt unsure of what I was seeing. I mean, there may have been some uncertainty at the outset with each character, but I was quickly given the key of who they were either from dialogue or from behavior.

“Aurora” is not only a step forward in Puiu's filmmaking, it is a new beginning. And I couldn’t help but think that maybe the artistic divorce from screenwriter/now director Razvan Radulescu was just what was needed for Puiu to truly come into his own as an artist.

Puiu’s honesty in "Aurora" is total. When he made this movie he simply opened up and let himself bleed onto the screen. He performed observational cinema on himself, he hypnotized himself by doing it and went deeper and deeper into that trance of a character he ironically called “Viorel” (in Romanian, the name means “violet”, a spring wild flower particularly frail, and while I know a few Romanian men by that name, none is too happy with it.) It’s the kind of openness that few artists today are capable of even dreaming about, let alone achieving. If you will, it is an old fashioned ideal, almost, the artist who lets himself be raw, be there, give it all up for… for whom? For the love of others. Observe how old fashioned and pathetic this can sound. So many hacks and people afraid of whom they are have come to populate this planet and have a say in the way things go that indeed, when someone like Puiu comes along, we are rather caught unaware and don’t exactly know what to think. There are those who salute him, but then there are many more who would like him to play by the rules we all learned. Why can’t he do things the way everyone does them, why can’t he… not be himself and not bother us with the blood on his face? Coming from the bloody hands he holds his open viscera in? Oh, gross! Put those guts back into your belly, Cristi Puiu, and stop bothering us with an honesty nobody asked for... This is the 21st century, people nowadays don’t live for their art anymore, they make art for a living and they manipulate the press to bring it before the public. What the hell did you think you were doing?

To see a true artist “lose the battle” over the cinema critics’ minds against a formidable hack like "the talented Mr. Ujica" is a pain, indeed. Luckily, Puiu himself was in no such battle, he did his film for the audience, however restrained that may be and all one can hope is that Romanian (or foreign, for that matter) film critics' ass biting and/or lack of comprehension has long ceased to cause him any pain.

Now, why bother being a true artist, when it’s so much easier to find one and ride in the tail of the comet? Forget about the temperatures that poor thing develops as it travels the universe and enjoy the ride! I won't be naming any more names here, but you know who you are and what you're up to...

Well, all we can hope for is that true artists will find the strength to go on and still make their art despite the workings of this ugly cinema world.

Thank you, Cristi Puiu…