Aura of a master

thriller Actor Ricardo Darin in  ‘The Aura.’

By the time he died of a heart attack on June 28 2006 at the age of 47, Argentinian director Fabian Bielinsky had in his filmography just two feature films:   Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens / 2000) and El Aura (The Aura / 2005).  Both the films were critically acclaimed and well received not only in his country but international circuits as well.

His untimely death shocked the film world. An obituary said, “Bielinsky’s death may not have robbed Argentina’s New Cinema of its edgiest or most groundbreaking card carrier. But with his passing it lost a filmmaker who might have earned the movement yet wider attention with his devotion to quality, accessibly inventive entertainment. In a too-brief career, Fabian Bielinsky did his part to raise both the conventional and experimental weight plates of the New Argentina Cinema.”

Born in Buenos Aires, Bielinsky made his first short film on super-8 as a 13-year-old schoolboy. He studied film-making at the national film institute and his graduation film (based on a story by the famous writer Jorge Luis Borges) won an international prize in Spain.

Known to be a kind man with a great passion and knowledge about cinema, Bielinsky was influenced mainly by the American films from the 1970s like The Godfather, Deliverance, and The French Connection.  Entering the film industry in the early 1980s, he worked as an assistant to several leading as well as first-time directors in Argentinian cinema.

In his own films, Bielinsky chose to unravel twisted characters and place them often in bizarre circumstances.  His unorthodox plots merged well with his technique of film making where even an extraordinary situation seemed quite normal and acceptable.

Saga of the ‘Nine Queens’

In Nine Queens — a superbly structured crafted, fast-paced entertainer — the entire action takes place within a single day. The main protagonists of the film are two small-time swindlers: Marcos (played by Ricardo Darin) and Juan (Gaston Pauls) who come together by chance and get involved in trading of rare (but counterfeit) stamps with a soon-to be deported Spanish businessman/stamp collector. The title of the film actually refers to the set of rare stamps. Interwoven in the narrative is a string of scheming characters/situations which frequently brings the viewer to the edge of the seat.

The New York Times reviewer saw in Nine Queens finer points of gamesmanship and con artistry, and glimpses of ‘Hitchcock’s winking tongue-in-cheek vision of a paranoid universe’ where everyone was part of an elaborate conspiracy.  

The socio-political undercurrent of the film was not to be missed. “Nine Queens was one of the last films to be completed in Argentina before the country’s political and economic collapse at the end of 2001,” observed Michael Chanan in The Guardian.  “It presents the picture of a corrupt society, where everyone is conning everyone else, a metaphor for a dangerous political situation on the verge of coming to a head, with a closing scene - as a bank puts up its shutters and depositors clamour for their money - that is nothing short of prophetic.”

On his part, Bielinsky (who initially had difficulty in getting finance to produce the film) was happy that Nine Queens proved that one could make a personal film, without big stars, and still ‘make a load of money and get good reviews’.

He confessed to making a social comment on society, but averred that he wasn’t saying that his countrymen were crooks and conmen. “I was talking about a feeling you could have in a certain environment that everybody is cheating and lying, and that nobody is telling the truth.”

When released, Nine Queens (colour / 114 mins)  became a box office hit in Argentina, and won seven awards from Argentinean Film Critics Association for Bielinsky (Best Film / Best Director / Best Screenplay), Ricardo Darin (Best Actor), Marcelo Camorino (Best Cinematography), Sergio Zottola  (Best Editing) and Elsa Berenguer (Best Supporting Actress).  

Internationally too, the film did very well by winning, among others, the Audience Award at Bogota Film Festival, Colombia; Festival du Film Policier de Cognac (Cognac Police Film Festival), France; Lleida Latin-American Film Festival, Spain; Oslo Film from the South Festival, Norway, and Portland International Film Festival, USA. It was also nominated for British Independent Film Award under Best Foreign Film category. After the release of the film, Bielinsky received calls from several major Hollywood studios, but remained disinterested in their offers.

Psychological thriller

In the second and last feature film he directed, The Aura, Bielinsky again unfolds a tale of conspiracy through the absorbing journey of a brooding, introverted taxidermist (played superbly again by Ricardo Darin). A hunting expedition in the calm of the Patagonian forest leads to the accidental murder of a hunter-cum-lodger, who (as we come to know later) was masterplanning a casino heist.

The taxidermist (whose epileptic seizures are ingeniously intermingled into the stimulating narrative) takes the place of the murdered lodger as the executor of the plan.
The psychological thriller then follows many startling twists and turns – each one choreographed by Bielinsky with the aid of stunning photography, intelligent editing, soulful sound/music and top-notch performances. The title of the film, incidentally, refers to the sensations that precede an epileptic seizure.

For Bielinsky, The Aura  was not a thriller, but a character study. "The film’s theme is crime, but its structure allows for more discussions,” he explained in an interview. “I decided to accept a series of brutal and dangerous breaks... I opted to go on breaking rules, so that things wouldn’t happen when they were supposed to happen.”

The Aura too was well received within the country and outside. It won six Argentine Film Critics Association Awards, and FIPRESCI Prize for the Best Film at Havana Film Festival.
Nominated at San Sebastián International Film Festival (Golden Seashell) and Sundance Film Festival (Grand Jury Prize World Cinema), it was featured in film festivals at Brisbane, Edinburgh and Los Angeles.Nueve Reinas and  El Aura were screened as part of the International Film Festival which concluded recently in Bangalore.

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