"For all its willingness to risk audience discomfort by immersing the viewer in the slow, agonizing buildup to the titular event, Cristi Puiu's justly lauded 2005 film The Death of Mr Lazarescu was painstakingly precise in the specifics of its details and never less than fully legible," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant. "With his follow-up, Aurora, a no less challenging immersion in the daily existence of a single figure, Puiu deliberately courts a frustrating obscurantism that at times plays like an intriguing mystery and other times just baffles. If the film is ultimately too opaque to satisfy on the level of graspable narrative or characterization, that may be precisely the point, but it still makes for a viewing as wearisome as it is rewarding."
Time Out New York's Keith Uhlich: "Puiu himself assumes the lead role of Viorel, a grim-faced metallurgist who wanders the streets of Bucharest — and walks for extended stretches around a half-renovated apartment — with an initially undefined purpose that slowly (very, very slowly) becomes clear. Whatever significance — political, social, psychological — we're meant to draw from Viorel's journey is counteracted by the film's consistently enervating tempo."
Blogging for TCM, R Emmet Sweeney notes that Aurora "is the second part of what he calls his Six Stories from the Outskirts of Bucharest, dedicated to Eric Rohmer and his Six Moral Tales... Puiu shoots him constantly from a distance, framed inside of doorways and other transitional spaces, the unbalanced images focused on the sliver of well-lighted spaces he broods in. The visuals are as opaque as the character, bisected and hard to navigate, plus Puiu frequently pans away from major actions, the camera acting like an abused but loving dog, keeping a distance but always wanting to creep closer. Puiu told his cameramen to 'follow the character, and to look at him with a feeling that resembles a father watching his child learn to walk.' This is a more compassionate version of my comparison, but still apt."
"At least a third of Aurora is dedicated to wholly inconsequential action that reveals nothing about anything," writes Nick Schager, "thereby relegating its observation of Viorel to a vacuous approximation of Jeanne Dielman's rigorous everyday-routine-fixated gaze, not to mention one that lacks the dry social-satire wit of Lazarescu. Violence is brutish and quick in Puiu's tale, but given the meaningless of so many of its incidents, the film fails to generate much in the way of suspense from its more menacing moments."
"The film plays out almost in the same fashion as Corneliu Porumboiu's Police, Adjective, with long stretches of silence and staking out/stalking and then concluding at a police station," writes Martin Tsai in the Critic's Notebook. "Without spoiling too much, Aurora heads toward but ultimately falls short of where Edward Yang's A Brighter Summer Day ended up. Given that Lazarescu was such a towering achievement, a disappointment from Mr Puiu was almost inevitable. But with its stationary camera and humorless script, Aurora is just so stylistically different from everything that made Lazarescu so beguiling. It seems that without the sociopolitical baggage, the Romanian new wave can be vacuous and vapid indeed."
Henry Stewart in the L: "Aurora employs all of the Romanian New Wave's familiar motifs: watch an unshaved protagonist navigate dilapidated lodgings and industrial ruins lit with a sickly green glow; watch long stretches of silent surveillance, three hours of filmmaking without close-ups, without edited sequences of shots, steeped in morose silence. See an irascible population that takes out its bitterness on children; see moments of black humor, like the inherent absurdity of carrying a shotgun in one hand and a slice of chocolate cake in the other; see a lead actor whose inscrutably stoic mien betrays unhappiness but little else."
For Simon Abrams, writing for the New York Press, Aurora is "a freaky Romanian answer to the American slasher. The violence has no motive until it does in the film's final scene and even before then, you get the sense, mostly from the various diatribes Viorel strives to unleash on unsuspecting liars and cheats, that in his head, he's punishing people for their amoral behavior." But a "kind of premature obfuscation makes the film's finale an inevitable disappointment, even if the rest of the film's process is fitfully mesmerizing."
Kenji Fujishima at the House Next Door: "By the end, nothing much seems to have been revealed; whatever Puiu's intentions were in making his movie the way he did, either I was too numbed by the whole empty experience to be able to properly sort them out, or he hasn't successfully communicated it in any meaningful way in the finished film."
Tom Hall's review begins with a spoiler warning, and not without reason. So I'll just note that the gist is that "perhaps Aurora's most audacious point is found in the way Puiu handles the inevitable violence."
"Although one would have to watch this three-hour movie twice, if one were going to understand it (or not), there's but a single Sunday-evening showing," notes J Hoberman in the Voice.
Earlier: Cannes roundup. "Ultimately," for Daniel Kasman, "there is no exploration in Aurora, only exposition — in the film's own idiosyncratic, cryptic-realist manner — and I wonder where its interest lays beyond the thin, elongated surface study of the vagueness of an unexplained human character."
Update: "Aurora's insistence on the unknowable nature of Viorel's mind proves perhaps its most fertile and resonant conceit, yet it also lies at the root of its most nagging flaw," writes Matt Connolly in Reverse Shot. "Without giving too much away, both Viorel's free-floating rage and the deeds it inspires tie the character to a long line of quietly aggressive male loners, acting out their frustration toward the world's perceived injustices — particularly those caused by disloyal women and their compatriots. Indeed, the character's subtle misogyny gains prominence as the film progresses, culminating in a sweaty-palmed encounter with three female sales associates at a downtown boutique. Puiu cannot be accused of flattering his protagonist's wormy resentments. But I don't think it's strictly a matter of personal predilection to wonder if the world really needed another exploration of the straight while male's bruised ego and instable mind."