Recalling Jean Vigo and other prodigious directorial talents whose lives ended well before their time, Argentinean helmer Fabián Bielinsky burst onto the scene at age 39 and died eight years later, leaving in his wake only a handful of shorts and two features -- all surrounded by international acclaim that suggests decades of untold, unrealized promise.
Born on February 3, 1959, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Bielinsky had filmmaking in his blood from the word go. He started shooting films at 13, joined the ranks of the cinema group at Buenos Aires National High School, and helmed a short, Continuidad de los Parques, which he adapted from a story by Julio Cortázar. Bielinsky later attended the National Cinematographic Institute, where he crafted another well-received short, the follow-up La Espera. It not only enabled him to graduate, but won the prestigious first prize at the International Festival of Huesco in Spain. Bielinsky subsequently began his film career as an assistant director, and in the process threw himself head-first into the industry, contributing to around 400 commercials and several high-profile feature films including Marco Bechis' Alambrado, Mario Levin's Sotto Voce, and Carlos Sorin's Eterna Sonrisa de New Jersey.
Bielinsky then worked his way up the ladder, climbing up to the tier of co-screenwriter and second director on two projects for filmmaker Fernando Spiner: Bajamar, la Costa del Silencio and La Sonambula. Bielinsky's graduation to director happened somewhat capriciously; he won first prize in a filmmaking contest sponsored by Patagonik Film Group, Kodak, Cinecolor, JZ y Associados and FX Sound -- a cash prize, that gave him the funds to shoot his debut feature. This effort, 1998's Nine Queens, deservedly swept awards around the globe, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and seven other accolades at the 2001 Argentinean Film Critics' Association Awards; Best Argentinean Film of the Year by FIPRESCI 2001; and the Audience Award and Best Director prizes at the 2001 Lleida Latin-American Film Festival. The picture, a labyrinthine crime thriller sans the comic overtones of Pulp Fiction and True Romance that had become en vogue at the time, deals with two small-time con artists, Juan (Gastón Pauls) and Marcos (Ricardo Darín), who partner up for a hotel-centered scam that involves a philatelic forgery.
Variety praised Bielinsky's follow-up, the 2005 feature Dawn (or El Aura), as "an engrossing existential thriller....Leisurely paced, studied, reticent and rural, The Aura is a quieter, richer and better-looking piece that handles its multiple manipulations with the maturity the earlier pic sometimes lacked." Such comments were indicative of an overall response to the film, a crime thriller like its predecessor. In El Aura, two taxidermists, Espinosa (Ricardo Darín) and Sontag (Alejandro Awada) embark on a hunting trip to the forests of rural southern Argentina, and accidentally shoot the owner of the cabin at which they are residing. When two nefarious goons pop up and inquire about their friend, suggesting that the man was into foul play, Espinosa and Sontag decide to take advantage of the situation, embarking on the "perfect crime" of which they have always dreamed.
El Aura emulated Nine Queens by sweeping the Argentinean Film Awards in June 2006. Meanwhile, Bielinsky, who had been suffering from hypertension for a long period of time, had traveled to São Paulo, Brazil, to cast for an advertising project. He succumbed to a heart attack in his hotel on June 29, 2006.