More layers than baklava

“The Aura”IFC FilmsWritten and directed by Fabián BielinskyStarring: Ricardo Darn, Dolores Fonzi, Pablo Cedrn, Nahuel Prez Biscayart, Jorge, D’Ela and Alejandro AwadaNot rated/134 minutesOpens March 16, 2007Three-and-a-half out of four stars

There is a heist at the center of “The Aura,” but it is not a heist movie. For the most part, it exists not inside casinos and back rooms among criminal masterminds, but inside the dubious curiosity of a lonely man’s psyche.

In one great early scene, this man imagines how he would pull off the perfect heist. He maps out a plan, a diversion, an exit strategy-a flawless crime.

The man in question, played with impeccable precision by Ricardo Darn, is a nameless taxidermist who has always dreamed of such things. He is an intelligent man with a photographic memory and has convinced himself that he could get away with it. Other criminals are just too stupid to figure out all the flaws in the system.

But he never does have the guts to try such a thing; like most everyone else, he’s much too accustomed to his ordinary day-to-day existence. He will never, we expect, be involved in anything more exciting than, say, a taxidermy convention. That he serendipitously stumbles upon the opportunity to actually pull off a heist may logically be a stretch, but it is also the perfect jarring change to this particular character’s ordinary routine.

It begins innocently enough on a hunting expedition. It’s only fitting that the “getaway” for such an isolated character as this takes place in an isolated forest somewhere in Patagonia.

On his first day of hunting, he accidentally guns a man down, killing him. He’s momentarily paralyzed; usually when we see the taxidermist, he has a quiet confidence despite his solitary nature. But in this moment, as he’s just killed a man, he has the same look on his face that he does whenever he’s about to have a seizure: He’s crippled by fear and, naturally, is completely ignorant as to what to do.

But then?he is out in the middle of the wilderness. Who’s going to know anything? And so he covers it up, only to discover that, as luck would have it, the man he’s just killed was a major cog in a heist that is about to go down in just a few days.

One of the things writer/director Fabián Bielinsky plays with in “The Aura” is the delicate balance between the shaky perceptions of life and reality. The taxidermist suffers from epileptic seizures, all of which are preceded by a brief state of disorientation before he inevitably blacks out. That’s the first level. Then, there is his perception of the perfect heist he’s so certain he can pull off-an illusion that gets at least partially shattered when he actually gets thrown into a real one. That’s the second level.

Then, there is the way the taxidermist convinces everyone else involved in the heist-who never personally met the now-deceased crook-that he’s the man they’re looking for, that he knows what he’s doing-that he’s a hardened criminal.

That is the third level.

Altogether, the film reveals the tenuous nature of perception itself. The taxidermist may be able to play the role of a criminal, but things turn out quite differently from the way he imagined they would. He’s confronted by the reality of a situation that he’s only ever imagined.

Near the beginning of the film, he imagines pulling off his dream heist, but Bielinsky contrasts that beautifully with the way the situation actually unfolds.

Bielinsky, who sadly died not long after the film’s Sundance premiere last year, made just two films. His debut, “Nine Queens,” was an extremely effective but fairly straightforward entry into the tricky-heist-movie genre. With “The Aura,” he elevates his filmmaking talents to a much more sophisticated level, creating a resonant neo-noir that actually finds the desperation and fear that defined film noir in the first place.

“Larry, is that a gun pushed against my head, or are you?.” Ricardo Darn makes wild suppositions in “The Aura.”