(director/writer: Cristi Puiu; cinematographer: Viorel Sergovici; editor: Ioachim Stroe; cast: Cristi Puiu (Viorel), Clara Voda (Gina), Valeria Seciu (Pusa), Luminita Gheorghiu (Mioara), Catrinel Dumitrescu (Mrs. Livinski), Gelu Colceag (Mr. Livinski), Valentin Popescu (Stoian); Runtime: 181; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Anca Puiu/Bobby Paunescu; Cinema Guild; 2010-Romania-in Romanian with English subtitles)

It’s not the most cheerful film, but it’s not a dirge.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Romanian filmmaker Cristi Puiu (“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu“)is the writer-director of this three-hour experimental crime drama that turns out to be an intriguing philosophical character study of an ordinary man we follow for about one and a half days and try to piece together from the little back story supplied why this supposedly good citizen is driven to commit a premeditated murder of four people in such a cold-blooded manner. Puiu has stated “My purpose with Aurora is to reconstruct the act of killing by integrating the personal story of the criminal into the crime and by avoiding any form of discourse that would turn the murder into an extraordinary act.”The director plays the metallurgical engineer Viorel, who turns to his dark side and inexplicably turns killer.It’s played out in the toxic climate in post-communist Bucharest, and is acted by both professional and non-professional actors in a way that emulates a documentary film kind of realism. The filmmaker is not looking for drama, but to be like a researcher trying to figure out why a person who never committed a murder would now do so.It raises many questions and provides few answers. Only in the last five minutes, when the killer surrenders at the police station and signs a confession, do we get some clarification as to what went down.This bold eyewitness look at the killer’s routine life is not enough for us to fully understand the killer’s mindset, but enough to understand the severe mental strain that allowedhim to lose any rational grip on his decision making process.For those with the patience to sit through such a slow paced film, the reward is seeing an original film that is both demanding and awesome. It’s a film for those select few who can deal with an unpleasant subject matter and a film that has no interest in being entertaining or shocking, only in being mentally stimulating. The filmmaker creates an unvarnished intelligent account of an ordinary man in deep pain and confusion go off the deep-end, and makes it a thought-provoking work that seems as real as real life.

The 42-year-old Viorel works in a bleak metallurgical factory, where the divorced father of two young girlscan’t reconcile why his wife left him.The story follows this unsympathetic glum taciturn figure around as he visits various locations on the outskirts of Bucharest, such as his factory workplace to retrieve an overdue loan from a work colleague and from another colleague pick up firing pins. Viorel then buys in a legal gun store a second-hand Czech 12-gauge shotgun. Soon after he murders his in-laws in their home and later his wife’s notary public lover in a hotel underground parking lot. The victim’s companion, a woman, is not known to Viorel, but is nevertheless slain for unfortunately being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Though we get no psychological explanations for the murders or clear motives, we learn that in Bucharest people mistrust each other is a fact of life, relationships are harsh and life is grim.ForPuiu the dark aspects of the city touch the citizen’s soul and force most to wear a mask to hide their true feelings, and therefore to deceive or even possibly murder another is just part of ordinary life and not out of national character.

It’s not the most cheerful film, but it’s not a dirge. There’s a weird Eastern European droll humor that abounds, whereby the auteur has a mocking laugh at bullying parents and those who think they have the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale down pat.

REVIEWED ON 12/30/2011 GRADE: A-