It has been five years since Cristi Puiu’s superb The Death of Mr. Lazarescu heralded a new wave of strong work from Romania. His latest, Aurora, observes a middle-class engineer (played by Puiu) as his unsettled life moves from being “in transition” to something far grimmer. Puiu discussed the difference between confession and fact, his decision to “incarnate” the protagonist, the problem of great expectations, and the result of following ideas to their ultimate conclusion.
Aurora played at the 48th New York Film Festival; the L’s complete coverage of the festival is here.
What projects have you been working on since The Death of Mr. Lazarescu?
Aurora is the only one, but it was a difficult one, and I had to do lots of things in order to have the information I was looking for. In fact it was not trying to make a film, it was trying to understand what is happening in this very specific and extreme situation when somebody is going to kill. I had to make all this documentation. In Bucharest I started talking to all these guys working for the homicide squad. A friend, a prosecutor, allowed me to watch how things are happening. I went to different scenes of crime. In Bucharest they told me there are around 50 killings per year, and most of them are happening because of alcohol and later on after Communism because of drugs as well. What they told me is that most of these crimes happen in the circle of family, inside the circle of acquaintances.
This was one of the triggers of this film. The question was, Why? We assume that we understand each other, and in the family it’s easier to communicate-to make your point through more peaceful means than by eliminating the other, and his point of view as well. Everything [whistles] erased. After making this documentation, I realized we cannot escape this. The fact that if we are… [15-second pause] if we are facing oppositions, obstacles, we can resign or attack. There is a very interesting book about it. It’s by a French thinker, Henri Laborit: Éloge de la fuite. He makes this idea very clear about the animals who react like this, when there is a conflict and there is danger. They either run away or attack.
And it was like, trying to understand how things are happening. I don’t understand. I don’t understand. It’s too big for me.
It’s a hard thing to explain.
That’s why I decided not to explain and not to make out of it a demonstration of the fact, because I do not think art has something to do with demonstration. I think art is something completely different: from my position as a spectator, art is something that leads me to questions that cannot be expressed, formulated, through the means of any other domain. These five years from Lazarescu to Aurora were years of searching for a reason in order to get to be interested in making another film.
I was trying to restore what I experienced through this documentation that I made inside the judicial system. I talked to either policemen or criminals, murderers, and what I noticed and realized is something that really surprised me. It’s nothing exceptional, maybe some other people realize it, but I didn’t. It’s why I made the character say something about how justice cannot understand what is happening with his wife. I realized that justice is there because it has to protect the society. It is not there to deliver the truth. It is not there for understanding what really happened. This is not defending the criminals, it is just that I am trying to say there is a problem and we cannot solve it, and this problem is related to the way things are working.
During this documentation I made, I saw a criminal, his wife was almost decapitated, and he was in a trance. After 30 years of marriage. Big kids, 20, 20-something. I went to the police station, and he started telling the story. And my friend the prosecutor was writing the story, but compressing the story. So it was very interesting: in front of me was a process, a legitimate process, a legal one, of distorting the facts. That means that in order to get to the point, to the information that we need for the file for the case, we are distorting the facts—not the facts, but the discourse of the killer. The prosecutor took from his testimony just those elements that he thought were revelatory for the case.
This was very interesting because it was very close to what stories in general are. And I do believe that stories do not exist, but that it is the storytellers that exist. The first lesson in cinema: cinema is an art of the ellipsis.