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Interview with Cristi Puiu about Aurora
 
 
   
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How did you come up with the project for Aurora?

In 2005, Romanian television broadcast a series of stories on criminals. It made me want to look into a topic in which I had always been interested. I grew up reading mystery novels, and even though film was a strange land to me at that time, I watched a lot of film noirs on television. At the age of sixteen, I came upon the writers who became my models: Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Camus, Borges and Sabato; Crime and Punishment, The Outsider and The Tunnel left a deep impression on me when I was a young man. The research I conducted for this film probably fused with all of the reading I grasped what is at stake in the film. It is not a film about the act of killing. A film about the act of killing would start at the end of mine. The investigators would ask precise questions about the motives behind the crime. In any case, there is no explanation for the act of killing; this is what I made a point of highlighting with Aurora. In films, criminals are glamorous and have a sort of aura around them. This is a pitiful cliché. In fact killers are people who kill, and people who kill are ordinary people.

Don’t you think that portraying the murderer as an "ordinary" human being is provocative because it trivialises the very act of killing?

There is a tendency to show a murder as something dramatic, but it is a trivial act. Society protects itself using prisons. They ease our conscience by placing people into categories such as
criminals. Aurora does not seek this kind of clear conscience, it seeks questions. It seeks to raise questions about crime, the criminal state of an individual, and more generally, the violence
that defines our existence and our relationships with others. I am not defending murderers, far from it. I am demanding that we adopt a rational attitude, that we do not flee our condition
as potential criminals, that we do not deny the obvious, that violence is part and parcel of our condition and our relationships with others. When one commits a murder, one is still a human
being, and that’s what I was interested in… Aurora lays out all the information one has access to if one watches this ordinary is why you get the impression that the murders are subdued.

The murderer does not really seem to question his own actions.

Questioning an act is an inner process. I had to let Viorel, my main character, express himself with his body, his eyes or his gestures.
Viorel experiences events and then wonders about them. He does not say much, but he asks himself questions. They are not spoken questions however and this may seem destabilising. In the
film, we are faced with a new situation in which instead of being given answers, we are given fragments of the life of a character.
He does exactly what anyone else would do in their solitude : look, touch, move about… His expressions, his gestures and his explanations are working hypotheses. It is then up to the viewer
to make up his mind, because it is he who plays the part of the investigator. Besides, I directed the film in a way that encourages viewers to guess what’s going to happen, because it’s shot so that very often, we watch the characters behind doors or walls.

Would you say that Viorel is a social outcast?

No, it would be too easy to consider him as an outcast or a rebel. The history of cinema and of literature would tend to make us see Viorel as a hero. But what is a hero? Heroes do not exist, what does exist is the need for heroes: we make them up, we imagine them, and we create stories… The need for heroes, paradoxically enough, creates fake heroes: "misfits".  But if we give it some thought, we’re all misfits.
Real life heroes would be artists or geniuses, those who remain misunderstood, while the regular man is understood by his contemporaries. But this line of thinking is wrong. One is not born a hero, one unwittingly becomes one.

What made you decide to play the lead role?

Originally I wasn’t supposed to play Viorel. I first auditioned about sixty actors, professionals and non-professionals, but I couldn’t make up my mind. This was when Clara Voda, who plays Gina, suggested I audition myself, which I found quite an odd idea at first since I am rather bashful. But I gave it a try, especially because I didn’t want to regret not doing it later on. The result wasn’t very convincing but there was something about the eyes of the character that I attempted
to convey and which I found interesting. My decision was especially linked to something I found out at the time. The concept of the film was that you could not get into somebody else’s head. However, directing an actor means being able to enter his mind and that of the character he plays which was, after all, contrary to my first working hypotheses. I realised I had to play the lead role, which was very scary as there was no way to turn back: I had to go all the way, and that’s what I did.

Did you encounter specific difficulties being on both sides of the camera?

It was a very thankless position to be in. It was very difficult to make this film especially because I had to be an actor. My relationships with the crew changed: I found out that a director could lose his authority, that people were becoming less demanding of themselves…. It was a schizophrenic experience to look at myself and also have control over my character.

Four cameramen worked on the film.

It turned out to be complicated to obtain what I was looking for in terms of cinematography for this film. Each one of us has a different history, and this also determines one’s aesthetic position
behind the camera. Even though I tried to provide as many indications as possible on the camera movements and the framing, communication was difficult. I told the cameramen to follow the character, and to look at him with a feeling that resembles a father watching his child learn to walk. Each person brought something different and interesting. The point of view I was seeking
was something that was not abstract or distant but included an important emotional component. The camera could not be reduced to a machine for this film: it had to function as a witness and
bring out what the audience felt for the character. My intention approaches that of the documentary cinema of Raymond Depardon, and it was even more difficult to find the right cameraman in Romania, where this approach to film is not at all valued.
You were surrounded by both professional actors and non-professionals. I think there is no such thing as an actor. There are only human beings with who I can work with. It’s tricky to cast only non-professionals, but I know these people, and know they will be loyal all the way to the end of the project. I try to cast real human beings for the roles that I conceive. It is not only a question of them fitting the role; it’s also about whether they will remain faithful to the project’s goals.

The film’s structure is very different from the traditional dramatic style of film noir or Hollywood thrillers…

I based the script on the principles of direct cinema and documentaries, in which what is filmed is raw material. During the shoot we improvised quite a few things; the film was really constructed in the editing room. We had footage for a five hour film, two hours of which we threw out. The result
is an organic structure. An author will select the details he thinks are significant according to his sensibility, his cultural background, or the things that shape his own perception and thought. He can decide to add more or take out details likely to reveal things to the audience. But what I may find enlightening may not be interesting to everyone else. That was the original concept of the film and what I intended to highlight in the final scene. I am not opposed to traditional structures but this is the structure I saw fit for my story.

How does Aurora fit into the Six Stories from the Outskirts of Bucharest series?

It is part of the series just like The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. It is an unfinished series, a query about love on the outskirts of Bucharest where I grew up. And given that love has many
facets, I will continue to express what I think and what I have discovered. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu was a story about love for one’s fellow man, based on a true story. Aurora is a film based on several true stories, it’s a composite work. Even though The Death of Mr. Lazarescu matters a lot to me, (I had my grandfather in mind), Aurora is more a film about
me. I don’t know where it fits into the series, if it is the second installment, the fourth or the fifth, but it’s the film I wanted to make now. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, was dedicated to
Thanatos, and my next film may be dedicated to Eros. Aurora is a film about the missing link between Eros and Thanatos.

Following your recent success with The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and the success of your fellow countrymen, would you say ithas become easier to make films in Romania nowadays?

No, because ever since the fifties, we have been in the first stage of Romanian cinema. We have not yet understood that cinema is an art form. Some filmmakers are following this path while others regard cinema as mere entertainment. Moreover, the success of the new Romanian cinema is perceived by older filmmakers as a personal failure. There is a sense of discomfort.
It is similar to what the philosopher René Girard describes as the scapegoat mechanism. There are new filmmakers today who are trying to redefine cinema. The latest success stories, which have been acclaimed abroad, have helped us attract co-productions. But in Romania, it’s still difficult.


 
 
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  The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
  Aurora
 
  Cristi Puiu
 
  Mandragora Movies
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
       
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