As I write this, so-called press and industry folks are being turned away from a screening of Todd Field's Little Children at the Toronto International Film Festival; me, I've chosen to spend an afternoon in Canada gladly sorting through the entries in the 8th Annual Vistas Film Festival, a worthy stack of films capable of holding its own against whatever screens here. Since its inception, Vistas has grown into a mighty little festivalfrom upstart Spanish-language catch-all to a five-day international festival programmed with estimable thought and consideration. And it's worth the nod for the simple fact that its closing-night entry ranks among the year's best films. No other festival in town can boast such a feat.
A hit at the Sundance Film Festival that is scheduled to open in New York in November but has no local release date at the moment, El Aura (The Aura) is the final film from Brazilian writer-director Fabian Bielinsky, who died in June of a heart attack at the age of 47. He has but two major films on his filmography: this one and 2000's Nine Queens, which received an unnecessary American do-over in 2004 as Criminal with John C. Reilly. If his first film hinted at greatness, Bielinsky's final one achieved it; every scene delivers a jolt, even ones that unfold in utter silence (which is often the case).
El Aura tells of a solitary, stand-up taxidermist named Esteban (Ricardo Darin), a man obsessed with bank robberies for which he doesn't have the nerve. He conducts them solely in his head; in one stunning sequence in a bank, he maps out the perfect hold-up, which seems to be happening but hasn't taken place at all. (There is another film in the fest actually titled El Palo, or The Hold-Up, that's as trivial as this is essential.) A hunting accident later, and the fantasy becomes a possible reality; bad men come into the woods, bringing with them threats that offer Esteban the promise of a real-life heist.
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There are other worthwhile entries in the fest, which runs Wednesday through September 24 at the Dallas Museum of Art and the Angelika Film Center; opening-night offering Inconscientes (Unconscious) is a playful meditation on sexuality set in the early 1900s; the Goya-nominated film (for best screenplay) plays like Pedro Almodovar without the tortured guilt getting in the way. One of the smaller, better finds is the high-school-set Casi Casi from Puerto Rico; it's Election with the grim polished to a finer shine. The fest will also host a Raul Julia retrospective (four films, including, of course, Kiss of the Spider Woman...and The Addams Family?), a Tin Tin salute and a Roberto Clemente doc with Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda attending. For a complete schedule and ticket information, go to vistasfilmfestival.org.