The Romanian New Wave hasn’t lost its lustre yet, the latest film from vanguard director Cristi Puiu makes clear. Aurora is the second in his series Six Stories from the outskirts of Bucharest, following The Death of Mr Lazarescu. Beginning in the grey Bucharest dawn, it follows a divorced engineer - played by Puiu himself - through a day which sees him commit murder. A bleak meditation on what underlies the human will to kill, it’s infused with pitch-black humour, culminating in a final scene that’s nothing short of a masterpiece of absurdism. In town for the London Film Festival, Puiu was typically straight-talking when we met to chat cinema and serial-killing.
Dazed Digital: How did the idea for the film originate?
Cristi Puiu: I was in one of these moments of hating cinema because it superficially treats some topics and I saw a show on TV called Dark Stories. One episode was the case of a guy from Transylvania who in 12 hours killed five people. His reason for doing so was that his wife left him. For me it was strange, absurd, that he didn’t kill the wife- it was something very, very, very complicated. I started doing research, and when I heard some of these murderers talking about what they’d done the main thing was that even they didn’t understand what it was all about. They were talking about something that was so mysterious that I thought this deserves more attention.
DD: Your character seems so ordinary, a kind of everyman. Do you think anyone is potentially a murderer?
Cristi Puiu: I think yes. Because of course in different degrees or percentages we are everything. In our existence we’re doing things which are against our morals all the time, and we allow ourselves to do things we’re not comfortable with. So I think it’s not a moral question, it has to do with things we don’t know about ourselves. We’re all doing things which might appear very strange to an outside observer.
DD: Why did you call the film Aurora?
Cristi Puiu: Aurora, the dawn, I chose because it contains some promise the day will come, a sunny day after killing. It sounds pretentious, but I think killing is at the origin of this culture. It’s an idea that doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to some other intellectuals, but it’s something I subscribe to. I think our civilisation is based on crime and raised from crime, from killing, from eliminating the other. Also, the film is a sort of response to the film by Murnau [Sunrise], which I don’t like. I appreciate it as being a great film but I don’t subscribe to his philosophy, for me it’s too close to what fairytales are. It’s wishful thinking that I’m against.
DD: What can we expect from the next films in the series?
Cristi Puiu: I’ll continue in this direction and I’d like to make bigger steps. I’m very much interested in what cinema is and what life is. It sounds so bad, I’m ashamed of stating this kind of bullshit, but it’s a fact, for me these are very important things. I don’t believe cinema is an artistic domain even if I’m stating this kind of shit- it’s life that interests me, and cinema is a tool for investigating it. Cinema is not beautiful images, cinema is not an articulated story, cinema is not acting like De Niro or Pacino, cinema is something else. We don’t even know what cinema is, it’s so young, and we as human beings are jumping to conclusions. Anytime we have an opportunity to jump to conclusions we jump, we’re so stupid. There are no conclusions.