‘Aurora’ Assessment: No melodrama, simply heat with a contact of ambiguity

In the course of her three feature films, Paz Fábrega has gradually reduced her films in search of an essence. On her debut “Cold Water of the Sea” she played with ambiguity and untraceability, while emphasizing a casual naturalism. In her successor, “Viaje”, she reduced her leeway with a playful, intimate story about a couple’s first meeting. With “Aurora” (presented as “Restless” in Ventana Sur in 2019) she refines her focus further and gives life to the story of a pregnant teenager and the adult who want to help her. It’s kind of a trope that maturity brings clarity, and while her two previous films were anything but immature, with “Aurora” it feels like she has found a reflective minimalism that is as quietly honest as it is complex human.

As with her previous films, Fábrega uses non-professional actors who draw unadorned but multifaceted performances. Luisa (Rebecca Woodbridge) is a single architect who finds significant fulfillment in her spare time teaching art classes to young students. As a mentor, she radiates warmth and conveys her students’ love for the art process and the intermediate phases that make up the most intense moments of creativity.

In the school bath she finds 17-year-old Yuliana (Raquel Villalobos) sick while she is taking pills to induce an abortion. The young woman has no adult to confide in and refuses to tell her mother (Erika Rojas). So Luisa takes them to a doctor, where they learn that Yuliana’s pregnancy is far from its early stages, five months. Abortion is not possible (so-called “therapeutic abortion” was legalized in Costa Rica in December 2019, which means that it is still largely banned); Luisa offers to give Yuliana the safe space she needs until she decides what to do.

With the excuse of moving in with friends to study for upcoming exams, the young woman withdraws to Luisa, who borrows her clothes to hide the baby bump and generally only supports her. Unlike so many films on similar themes, the mother isn’t a nightmare: she loves and we suspect from the start that she would eventually come around. However, like most teenagers, Yuliana cannot imagine being a disappointment and no doubt compares the situation to the presumably similar circumstances in which her mother’s pregnancy has to do with her.

Luisa’s unconscious motives are less obvious than just being a good Samaritan. Her unwillingness to leave Yuliana alone weighs on her relationship with her boyfriend Guille (Oscar González), and it’s unclear how to deal with this new unequal association: parental replacement or intergenerational friend? The viewer understands from the start that she is someone who enjoys transitional phases when things are being shaped and transformed but this is new territory and the signals are not clear.

Ambiguous close-ups of Luisa rolling on the floor with crystals dangling above are scattered throughout. She seems frustrated, as if she is trying to figure something out or, in the face of the crystals, pulling some kind of new age energy from the soil and minerals. The short scenes form the one element that doesn’t quite work, not because they’re puzzling, but because they don’t add anything essential to an already multi-faceted character.

The film’s quiet success is based instead on Fábrega’s deep respect for her characters and the actors’ own abilities to convey both inner warmth and, in a positive way, tacit normality. There is no melodrama here, no fighting; Even Yuliana’s friends (all middle class, apparently, except her) are basically good, kind children.

Fábrega and DP María Secco always react to the effects of natural light and use a soft color palette in the intimate scenes that conveys a feeling of comfort and calm. The non-professional actors clearly feel at home with the frequent close-ups, which capture the inner workings that are only hinted at in dialogue and encourage the audience’s sympathy.

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