‘Aki Kaurismäki sits in his heavy black coat, grimacing. The miserabilist’s miserabilist is looking more miserable than it is possible to imagine. I have been told it is best to interview him first thing in the morning, because he starts to drink after that. It is now four in the afternoon, and he seems to have been glugging back the white wine for a good few hours.
‘He is waiting for a member of staff at Soho House in London to tell him to put out his fag, and he is not disappointed. “I’m sorry, sir, we have told you, you can’t smoke in here.” Kaurismäki looks surprised, as if this is the first he’s heard of it, apologises and throws his lit cigarette into a glass of water. The waitress picks up the glass to take it away. Kaurismäki shouts, as if he’s just been mugged. “That’s my water! That’s my water!” She runs away. Finland’s greatest film-maker smiles.
‘Kaurismäki, now 55, is one of my favourite directors. For 30-odd years, he has been making the bleakest comedies – films that reflect his own soul, and that of his mother country, perfectly. They are dark and joyless, starring men who look like walruses and women who look like rats. His characters work away at dull jobs in factories or down coal mines or washing dishes, and rarely talk to each other. (In 1990’s The Match Factory Girl, there are 13 minutes before the first line of dialogue, and the whole film is only 68 minutes long.) They usually drink too much and the more decisive ones kill themselves: in Ariel, a father and son sit in a bar; then the father gets up, goes to the loo and shoots himself. The best his protagonists can hope for is escape, usually by boat.
‘But, amazingly, these films are funny and romantic. In fact, the bleaker Kaurismäki the man has become, the more tender his films. It’s simple, he says: “When all the hope is gone, there is no reason for pessimism.” The Man Without a Past, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2002, is typical of his latter-day ability to find hope in the hopeless: an unnamed man is mugged, left unconscious, loses his memory and is left to rebuild his life, befriended by dossers and drifters.
‘Kaurismäki lights another fag. His new film, Le Havre (set in France, though as Finnish as ever) is his first in six years, and his most weirdly optimistic. In fact, he might well have created a new movie genre: the asylum fairytale. It begins with the police stopping a lorryload of asylum seekers; a young boy runs away, takes refuge in the shallows of the freezing sea, and is discovered by an elderly shoeshine who takes him home. Yes, the characters still drink in silent misery, but Le Havre is also an astonishing affirmation of the power of love.
‘What inspired the film? “I read more and more articles, watched more and more TV news about people who have been drowned in the Mediterranean, when they’ve been promised the golden land of Europe. They come full of hopes, and it started to disturb my mind a lot. So what can I do? It’s a film. I might look like a cool guy, but I am most sentimental. I care about others, not too much about myself.”
‘There is a wonderful exchange in the film when the shoeshine asks his wife, ill with cancer, if he can visit her in hospital. She tells him to stay away until she is through the worst. “After two weeks come back and bring the yellow dress that I wore at La Rochelle,” she says. I tell him it’s my favourite line in the film. He smiles. “My favourite, too. I cried when I wrote that.” Why La Rochelle? “Because I had a nice moment with my wife there.”
‘Kaurismäki continues to smoke in the near dark, waiting for the inevitable tap on the shoulder while telling me about his solution to life’s iniquities. This is a philosophy which might have been co-authored by Samuel Beckett and Osama bin Laden. “For mankind, I can’t see any way out,” he says in his deadly monotone, “except terrorism. We kill the 1%.” Which 1%? “The only way for mankind to get out of this misery is to kill the 1% who own everything. The 1% who have put us in the position where humanity has no value. The rich. And the politicians who are the puppies of the rich.”
‘Has he ever thought of going into politics? “No, never. Politics are corrupt.” You wonder if he would say any different when sober; I suspect, if anything, he would be more extreme. Of course, it could all be a pose but I don’t think so. His own life has been even bleaker than his films. He tells me about the men in his close family who have killed themselves, and asks me not to name them. That was their personal choice, he says, and it is not something he wants to intrude on.
‘The manager of Soho House walks into the room. “I’m sorry, sir, but this really is the last time. We have told you twice you can’t smoke in here.” Kaurismäki looks at him with doe-eyed innocence, and apologises again, while we are moved to the verandah. By now we are both knocking back the wine, the only difference being that Kaurismäki tends to empty the glass in one gulp. Is it true that he can only direct when drinking? No, he says, that’s rubbish; he can’t write or edit when drinking, but it makes no difference when directing, so he does drink. But he doesn’t have to.
‘What would he say defines the Finnish character? “Melancholy,” he says instantly. Why does Finland have such a high suicide rate? “Lack of light. Light in every way. The sunshine. Now it is proven medically that people need vitamin D. It is always dark, and when it is dark, it is also dark in the mind.” Does this worry him? He glugs back another glass. “I more or less know I will kill myself, but not yet.” What would make him do it? “Misery.” I am beginning to feel protective of him. You are too much of a romantic, I protest. “Yeah, yeah. So I don’t shoot myself in my head, I shoot myself in my heart.”
‘Still, there might be hope for him. He and his wife now spend half the year in Portugal. Did they move there for the light? “It is the furthest place from Finland in Europe.” We talk about family, and he mentions his wife, an artist who doesn’t like exhibiting her work. After 26 years of marriage, he is obviously still besotted. Is she as miserable as him? He smiles. It’s a lovely, sweet smile; you have to earn it, but it’s worth the wait. “No, she loves life. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here.” I bet you are the most attentive, romantic husband there is, I say; I bet you buy her flowers and that she’s got that yellow dress still. “Yes, she does. In my last three films the female characters are all my wife.” Does she like that? “She didn’t even notice.” Do they have children? “Too many.” How many? “None.”
‘He lights another cigarette, and tells me he has only just started smoking again. How many a day? “Three boxes, 60. My record is 12 boxes. When I have to deal with idiotic questions like yours I have to smoke more.” That’s a bit rude. He grins like a little boy who knows he’s gone too far. “Well, I wanted a reaction. I didn’t mean to be rude, I just wanted to provoke you.”
‘Kaurismäki has never been a great respecter of convention or the law. As a young hippy he drifted from job to job. For a while, he was homeless; he often spent the night in police cells after being arrested for bad behaviour. You sense he’s still not quite sure how he became a film-maker (as did his brother Mika; for a time they ran a production company together, but haven’t spoken for 20 years. “For reasons you don’t have to know. Never have economic relationships with your so-called friends”).
‘He certainly loved movies as a child, and found solace in the silence of Keaton and Chaplin. Homages and allusions to past masters are woven into his films: Le Havre nods to Marcel Carné (the shoeshine is called Marcel, and his wife Arletty, after the star of Carné’s Les Enfants du Paradis); there are also nods to Jean-Pierre Melville and Robert Bresson.
‘His love of film is equalled only by his despair at contemporary cinema – not least his own. He insists no director has made a masterpiece since the 1970s. What about Scorsese? He snorts, and glugs. “Goodfellas is bullshit. It is the lousiest film ever, ever made. After Raging Bull, he was a lousy amateur.” Terrence Malick? “The first one [Badlands] was OK. That was in the 1970s. After that they were Christian bullshit.”
‘There is just time to top up with a beer. I ask Kaurismäki why he has not made a film in six years. Because his films are dreadful, he says; he is getting old and slowing down, and he has already given too much of his life to cinema. What has he been doing with his time? “I prefer to wander around mushroom areas in the forest.” Eating them? “Of course. Finland has the best.” He gives me a handy hint on hallucinogenics. “Cook them before you put them in the tea. I don’t give recipes, but I only eat the ones I pick.”
‘Kaurismäki sparks up one last time, and we toast the good things in life: drink, mushrooms, death, his wife, love. I ask him what he thinks of his most recent film. “This one?” He looks shocked at the question, and asks again. “My own?” He pauses. “It may be the first one I don’t hate.”
‘That’s brilliant, I say. “Give me five. On the side. Up above.”
‘”Down below. You’re too slow,” he says.
‘And he actually laughs. “I don’t like the film, but I don’t hate it either. For me, that’s progress.”‘ — Simon Hattenstone
Aki Kaurismäki @ IMDb
‘Seven rounds with Aki Kaurismäki’
Aki Kaurismäki @ The Criterion Collection
‘Aki Kaurismäki: The Uncut Interview’
‘Aki Kaurismäki, Great Director profile’ @ Senses of Cinema
Aki Kaurismäki: “I’m not interested in the upper class.”
‘Library Aki Kaurismäki’
Podcast:’THE ECLIPSE VIEWER – EPISODE 35 – AKI KAURISMÄKI’S LENINGRAD COWBOYS’
‘Aki Kaurismäki: The Melancholy Master of Finnish Film’
‘”Le Havre” : le marxisme selon Kaurismäki’
‘Entretien avec le cinéaste Aki Kaurismäki’
‘Un long jour et une courte nuit avec Aki Kaurismäki’
The Official Site of Mika Kaurismäki
‘Les perdants magnifiques d’Aki Kaurismäki’
‘Scenes from the Deadpan Life’
‘Deadpan Poet: Director Aki Kaurismäki in interview’
James Quandt on Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre
‘[Reflections on Abortion in the Films of Aki Kaurismäki]’
11 Precious Minutes with Aki Kaurismäki
Aki Kaurismäki évoque Jean-Pierre Léaud
Aki Kaurismaki on Ozu
Aki Kaurismäki needs an electronic cigarette
Aki Kaurismäki singing finnish folk song
Aki Kaurismäki – Rocky VI
First of all: Why all the trilogies?
Aki Kaurismäki: I’m so bloody lazy that I have to tell everybody I make trilogies. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do anything but play cards. But the kind of plan I have will take 10 years. It’s called “The Harbor Town” trilogy. I even have a name for the next one. It’s called The Barber of Vigo. Vigo is a harbor town is Galicia, Spain. That’s all I know. So I’ll make another in five years and a third in 10 years so I can retire.
Do you find it harder to make movies now?
AK: Yes, it’s quite different from when I was younger and the fastest filmmaker in the world. I was even faster than Tsui Hark, who was bloody fast. I was certainly faster than Jim Jarmusch. Now he’s becoming faster than me, which is a bit worrisome, but not enough for me to speed up. I think I’ve said mostly what I had to do say. I have no ambition to rush.
So many of your films revolve around working class characters in life-changing predicaments. How do you avoid writing the same people over and over again?
AK: Well, look at Howard Hawks. Is John Wayne the same person in Rio Bravo and El Dorado? Is he playing himself? I always go to Howard Hawks when I’m asked about using the same characters, actors and situations. Or Ken Loach, he’s always doing the same kinds of films. Also, I’m not interested in the upper class. I don’t know how to write dialogue for them. I don’t know how they talk. I’ve always been working, working, working, so those are the characters I know. And I don’t travel so much.
And you don’t come to the U.S. very often anymore.
AK: I love New York. It was my favorite always, but my passport doesn’t have my fingerprints on it, so I can’t get in. And they want to take a photo of my eyes, which I don’t want. I’ll be watched on every street corner. I’m a bit protective of my privacy.
Your movies often pay homage to older American movies. What do you think of recent ones?
AK: Modern Hollywood, to me, is a shame, but independent movies are getting better and better. I’m a big fan of old Hollywood. I’ve been influenced by everything going back to The Great Train Robbery. And Bogart’s technique, and Raoul Walsh. You name it, I’m a fan of it. But that kind of Hollywood has vanished.
How do you know when a scene you’ve shot is funny?
AK: I have a theory about what’s funny and what’s not, but it doesn’t always work with the audience. I think with this one it works quite a lot, but I’ve made several films where people laugh at the sad moments and cry at the funny moments, and it was a bit surprising. But it doesn’t matter. If someone cried, it’s OK. Who am I to say when to laugh or cry?
Is Le Havre a personal film for you?
AK: This is not a very personal film. I have tried to put my skill of the last 30 years to make a film that a Chinese lady could understand without any subtitles.
Do you think you’ve accomplished that here?
AK: Yes, with the normal mistakes I always make. But I was very happy with this film because people were coming out of it feeling happy.
In another recent interview, you said that in the scene where police discover the immigrant in hiding, you wanted to surround him with the bodies of dead relatives. Why did you change your mind?
AK: There’s a serious a problem with immigrants suffering in forgotten containers while traveling 120 kilometers or more. They can die there. I didn’t want to fa
ce that problem because I was making an uplifting film. When there’s no hope, there’s no reason to be pessimistic anymore.
Do you see any major changes between the climate for making movies in Finland now and when you first started?
AK: I don’t. I’ve always worked with the money I had. We didn’t have salaries during the first 10 years, but nobody had any money either. I’ve always walked my own path.
Le Havre was chosen as Finland’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film this year. When The Man Without a Past was nominated, you refused to attend because you opposed the Iraq war. If nominated this year, would you still voice your opposition?
AK: At that time, it was hopeless, because the war was starting and everyone knew it, so I wasn’t really in a party mood. Now it’s different because the government, Cheney, Wolfowitz, those idiots are all out. The United States have a democratic government. I don’t know if it’s a good or bad government, but my boycott is over.
There’s no question that you’re a critical darling, but how important is it for you that your films perform well?
AK: I’m a producer, so of course I get the box office numbers every Monday morning. I hope for the best. There isn’t any sex or drugs so my expectations aren’t too high, but I trust a lot of adult audiences with civilized tastes. That’s why my budgets are so reasonable. I’m always happy when people watch my films, but I’m not a skyscraper.
16 of Aki Kaurismaki’s 33 films
Crime and Punishment (1983)
‘Crime and Punishment is a modern adaptation of the classical crime story by F.M. Dostoevsky – but faithful in its spirit to the original. The principal character – a young slaughterhouse worker – commits a senseless crime. Through his act he finally drifts out of society and into loneliness. Only a young girl who accidentally arrives at the scene of the crime wants to follow him. Guilt and the tightening net of the police throw a shadow over their desperate love affair. The nocturnal concrete jungle serves as a backdrop for the struggle for intellectual supremacy between the police and the murderer. Rahikainen’s only weapon in this struggle is his total indifference to everything. Crime and Punishment is, however, first and foremost a film about the last desperate rebellion of a young man against society. The society that – as we know – is a merciless machine. Perhaps we are all guilty – guilty of what? This unbearable question faces us everywhere, hands on hips, sneering at us. As you wish. We’ll die anyway.’ — The Match Factory
the entire film
Calamari Union (1985)
‘Aki Kaurismäki’s career began with the masterpiece Crime & Punishment. However, instead of making something similar immediately afterwards, he chose to follow it with an unconventional, black and white satire, Calamari Union. The film begins in a bar, a pivotal place in Kaurismaki’s movies. It is here we first meet our sixteen protagonists: fifteen men (including Matti Pellonpää, Kari Väänänen and Sakari Kuosmanen) all named Frank (apparently, the director was too lazy to come up with different names for everyone) and a guy named Pekka (Markku Toikka). These people represent the lowlife of Helsinki and, aware of this fact, they decide to go to Eira, the decent part of the city. The journey is described as if it were perilous, and in fact things will take unexpected turns. Calamari Union is a strange film, as it doesn’t follow the rules of conventional plotting. What we see is rather a series of separate, quite amusing incidents involving the Franks and Pekka, the dry, very Finnish humor being an anticipation of Kaurismäki’s musical satire Leningrad Cowboys Go America (speaking of music, there’s an interesting use of the song “Stand By Me” – a year ahead of Rob Reiner’s eponymous movie). This may not be the kind of movie people watch on a regular basis, but once it’s been seen, it doesn’t escape your memory. Perfect for a “different” cinema experience.’ — Max_cinefilo89
Shadows in Paradise (1986)
‘Despite a disdain for Hollywood and recent American foreign policy (he has declined Oscar nominations and U.S. festival invitations to protest the Iraq War), Kaurismäki has shown a keen adeptness at ingesting American genres, and then slyly upending them. Shadows in Paradise (1986), his third feature and the first of the trilogy, could be considered his rendition of a romantic comedy—although one that opens with an image of a blank wall. Soon enough that wall is revealed to be a garage door, through which enters a procession of less than gregarious garbagemen. Scenes of physical labor eventually give way to the story of a charmingly cheerless love affair that serves as an unexpected lifeboat for its down-and-out principals. The romance between direct but directionless trash collector Nikander (Kaurismäki’s close friend and collaborator Matti Pellonpää, who died in 1995) and cynical supermarket checkout girl Ilona (Kati Outinen, in her Kaurismäki debut), played out amid the gutted streetscapes and sparse, ramshackle apartments of Helsinki’s less fortunate areas, is hopelessly tentative, depicted as a series of minute gestures, timid and lovely.’ — Michael Koresky
‘In a sense, the Finnish director was giving classic neorealism a twist. But in Kaurismäki’s hands, the quest for secure work that provided the drama for De Sica’s Shoeshine and Bicycle Thieves becomes fleet, droll, if equally compassionate, comedy. Like Shadows in Paradise, Ariel begins with a still frame into which workers march—this time, it’s a group of coal miners on demolition duty, ascending a staircase. With his mine shut down, Taisto (Turo Pajala) accepts some final words of wisdom and the gift of a used Cadillac convertible from his father and co-worker, who then shoots himself, and leaves his Lapland home for Helsinki, with the vague hope of something better. Luck would have it differently, however, and Taisto finds himself a small fish in a big, muddy pond.’ — Michael Koresky
Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989)
‘Are the Leningrad Cowboys for real? With pointy pompadours reaching to impossible heights above their expressionless faces and needlelike winklepicker shoes that could have been torn from the feet of oversize elves, they might be a hungover collective dream of Elvis and Monty Python. And judging by their music, a so-earnest-it-must-be-ironic amalgam of polka, punk, rock, and Russian and American folk, they would seem to be strictly parodic, something like a Finnish rockabilly Spinal Tap. Yet for all their self-conscious eccentricity, the Leningrad Cowboys, put on the map by Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, are no joke. They’re a genuine band, and the stars of a throng of Kaurismäki films, including a concert documentary, music videos, and two comic features that grant them their own mythical, fish-out-of-water narrative.’ — Michael Koresky
The Match Factory Girl (1990)
‘THE MATCH-FACTORY GIRL, the third and final film in Aki Kaurismaki’s “Proletariat Trilogy,” offers similar themes to Kaurismaki’s previous work, with some slight alterations. First, the protagonist is no longer a sullen, working-class Finnish man, but a sullen, working-class Finnish woman. Second, there are no random acts of brutal violence. The transgressions beset upon and by Iris (Kati Outinen) are much colder, purposeful, and calculated. THE MATCH-FACTORY GIRL is not necessarily about a Finnish woman, but a woman. She is used and abused, utilized only if she can offer something tangible, be it money or sex. When her circumstances inconvenience those around her, her hard work and devotion are ignored and she is cast out like yesterday’s trash. This goes beyond feminism to include Karl Marx’s view of the fate of the blue-collar worker. But this time, the workhorse is no longer the burly male proletariat, but a mousy female factory worker. And just as Marx encouraged the workers of the world to stand up and unite against their oppressors, Iris seeks justice on a micro level. The people around her are the oppressors. They are the ones who pushed her. Why shouldn’t they be pushed back?’ — Nick Nobel
I Hired a Contract Killer (1990)
‘This droll thriller displays the same melancholy vision as Kaurismäki’s brilliant Ariel. After 15 years as a London waterworks clerk, French émigré Henri (Jean Pierre Léaud) is made redundant. Lonely and friendless, he hires a hit-man to put him out of his misery; but after meeting flower-seller Margaret (Clarke) in a pub, he tries to cancel the contract. Shot in English on barely recognisable London locations, the film’s oblique camera angles, moody colours and short, sharp scenes create a stylised world which still has the feel of everyday life. Kaurismäki’s plots and dialogue often give the impression of having been improvised at the last moment, but his framing and narrative concision are extremely rigorous. He also allows lots of space for some sympathetic performances, in particular the laconic Léaud, Colley as the hangdog assassin, Tesco and Cork as a pair of small-time villains. Meanwhile, Timo Salminen’s atmospheric images once again catch the seedy ambience of a B movie world where talk is cheap but love is precious. In short, it plays like an Ealing comedy on downers.’ — Time Out (London)
Montage of scenes
La Vie De Boheme (1992)
‘Based loosely on Henri Merger’s mid-19th-century series of short stories and, by extension, the celebrated Italian opera adaptation La Bohème, Kaurismäki’s postmodern reinterpretation of these parables both reconciled many of the thematic notions he’d been working with over the years as well as refined the stylistic shorthand with which he’d become so proficient. No stranger to tales of the downtrodden, disaffected, and dishonored (he’d previously devoted an entire trilogy of films to the proletarian plight), Kaurismäki instead took concerted advantage of his exotic environment while managing to maintain his inherent tragicomic insight. Concerning the day-to-day travails of a trio of outcast artists—in this case a writer, painter, and composer, all of unique descent—living below the poverty line in an old-fashioned approximation of modern-day Paris, La Vie de Bohème both reveres and repurposes its source material, ultimately resembling a typically earnest Kaurismäki fable rather than an insincere example of cultural appropriation.’ — Slant Magazine
Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatiana (1994)
‘Take Care of your Scarf, Tatjana is a road-movie about the unbelievable adventures of two Finnish men, driving a black Volga station wagon through Southern Finland some time in the mid-sixties. Valto, the owner of the car, drinks enormous amounts of coffee, Reino, a mechanic, drinks booze and blabbers endlessly. Already at the early stages of the journey, two ladies come along, one Estonian, the other Russian, and, in spite of understandable difficulties in communication and the obvious incapability of our men to approach the opposite sex, this absurd comedy gains, towards the end, some sentimental tones. Take Care of your Scarf is a film about the amazing state of mind of the Finnish man, and an almost surgically cutting investigation into the Finnish-Estonian- Russian relationships.’ — The Match Factory
Drifting Clouds (1996)
‘Aki Kaurismäki presents an incisive, subversively funny, and compassionate portrait of love, marriage, and perseverance in Drifting Clouds. Using signature elements of deadpan humor, vivid color palette, kitschy mise-en-scene, and irony of situation, Kaurismäki reflects the disillusionment, crisis of identity, and existential angst of a country struggling to cope with the impact of a post Cold War-induced recession: the chef’s alcohol abuse (which is amusingly commented on as an occupational hazard), Lauri’s reluctant sale of his disproportionately oversized Buick automobile, and the restaurant owner’s resigned acceptance of her failure to modernize. In an understated and poignant scene, an anxious and distracted Ilona immovably stands beside a picture of their lost young son, represented by a childhood photograph of the late actor and Kaurismäki regular, Matti Pellonpää (whose own weakness for alcohol contributed to his untimely death), for whom the film is dedicated. It is a reflection of the personal toll and sense of despair that pervades the film’s bleak and oppressive urban landscape, and the inexorable bonds of love, hope, and community that galvanizes the human spirit in the face of overwhelming pain and insurmountable adversity.’ — Strictly Film School
‘Based on a much-filmed Finnish novel from 1911: a farmer’s wife is seduced into running away from her stolid, older husband Juha by a city slicker, who enslaves her in a brothel. This plot is an ideal vehicle for Kaurismäki’s riotous miserabilism – dour characters in dire situations – but for once the glum Finn goes beyond one-note comedy. He shoots it as a neo-silent movie and turns it into a sophisticated reflection on the evolution of silent cinema, from its heavily intertitled, melodramatic beginnings to the rarely equalled visual expressiveness of its maturity. (The soundtrack similarly evolves from a musical base, gradually adding sound effects and then a fragment of sync-sound as a woman sings.) The result curiously resembles parts of Twin Peaks, but it plays as an oblique indictment of the mediocrity of most modern cinema.’ — Time Out (London)
The Man Without a Past (2002)
‘The Man Without a Past occupies the nebulous realms between emotions and moods. It’s deadpan-comic and entropic-tragic, ironic and optimistic, detached and intimate. Its characters speak with such icy remove that they make Coens brothers side players look as animated as Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. And don’t let the title fool you: though we have no background information on the unnamed protagonist or the Finnish seaside around him, the past is everywhere, from the postindustrial rust where he rebuilds his life to the rough lines and vaguely haunted look that hangs around the edges of Markku Peltola’s face. Precisely composed with shots that seldom move, Aki Kaurismäki directs with simplicity yet artistry. This is the kind of movie that can wholly lack a plot yet still unfold with a sense of internal logic that makes every diversion inexplicably inevitable. That’s no mean feat for a film where even the dialogue routinely floats out of comprehension, with the lead character suddenly going off on a tangent about visiting the moon as another humors him. When asked whether he met someone, the man replies, “Not really, it was a Sunday.”‘ — Not Just Movies
Lights in the Dusk (2006)
‘Lights in the Dusk (the Finnish title, Laitakaupungin valot, is inspired by Chaplin’s City Lights) is a quite unusual Kaurismäki movie, mostly because of the absence of his regular acting ensemble (the exception being Kati Outinen in a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo, reminiscent of Shadows in Paradise). In fact, the leading thespian is the rather unknown Janne Hyytiäinen, who had a minor role in The Man Without a Past. He plays Koistinen, a lonely, naive night watchman with no social life. The only “real” relationship he has is his friendship with the female owner of a hot dog stand, but then again it’s all limited to small talk about how boring his life is. Imagine his surprise, then, when one night a woman decides to keep him company in a cafè (when told she sat next to him because he looked lonely, the night watchman’s priceless answer is “And now what? We’re getting married?”). Overenthusiastic, Koistinen asks this lady out and brags about his “luck” with the hot dog woman. If only he knew, poor fella: his “girlfriend” is actually connected with the Russian underworld’s Helsinki branch, and the only reason she’s dating the unlucky fool is to help her superiors frame him for a crime. You can imagine how things go from this point on. Lights in the Dusk is all we could expect from Kaurismäki, but fails to reach the levels of previous masterpieces for two reasons: first of all, the whole thing about a guy being sent to jail for a crime he didn’t commit sounds all too familiar (Ariel, anyone?). In addition, there are moments where the director’s pessimism gets too frustrating for the audience, as he seems to have no intention of making his antihero’s situation a little more bearable. That’s why we’re caught completely off guard when he finally offers redemption and hope, all made more effective by the extremely bold decision to save it for the very last shot. His intriguing analysis of solitude, expressed through many beautiful symbols (the abandoned dog above all), climaxes into one stunning, undeniably powerful image, the best ending the Finnish master has ever come up with. For that shot alone, Kaurismäki deserves universal plaudits.’ — Max_cinefilo89
Le Havre (2011)
‘In what he intends to be a trilogy of movies set in ports, the Finnish moviemaker Aki Kaurismäki turns his affectionate, whimsical eye on the impoverished but generous folk of a run-down, waterfront community in the Normandy port of Le Havre. Led by the emblematically named Marcel Marx (André Wilms), a one-time bohemian who has given up novel-writing to work as a shoeshine boy, these outsiders protect a Congolese teenager in flight from the authorities after escaping from a container taking him and other refugees to London. The movie is a homage to French cinema, shot and acted in the flat, carefully composed style of Bresson and celebrating les petits gens, those kindly ordinary people who populate the poetic, popular-front movies of the 1930s associated with Renoir, Clair and Carné. One of the characters is called Arletty, and a benevolent local detective dresses like a cop in a Melville thriller. Nouvelle Vague star Jean-Pierre Léaud and Pierre Etaix –, comedy director, Tati associate and actor in Bresson’s Pickpocket – have walk-on roles.’ — The Guardian
Centro Histórico (segment) (2012)
‘By design, omnibus films tend to be unbalanced, with some segments clearly working better than others. In the case of the Portuguese-produced Historic Centre (Centro Histórico), which includes pieces by top-notch auteurs Aki Kaurismäki, Pedro Costa, Victor Erice and Manoel de Oliveira, there is some truth to that statement, although the filmmakers manage to create a fairly consistent ensemble in these four shorts set in the northern city of Guimarães, which was designated European Capital of Culture for 2012. In the strong opener Tavern Man (O Tasquiero), Finnish auteur Kaurismäki (Le Havre, The Man Without a Past) offers up a dialogue-less, deadpan comedy about a forlorn bar owner (regular Ilkka Koivula) trying his best to attract clients in the city’s historic central neighborhood. Although the story feels a bit truncated, there are plenty of cleverly drawn sight gags involving the man’s efforts to beat a competing tavern down the street, while the quiet shots of customers drinking alone underscores a certain leaden sadness, despite some otherwise hilarious bits.’ — Jordan Mintzer
The Other Side of Hope (2017)
‘The movies of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, with their deadpan drollery and aquarium light, have long been a habit-forming pleasure. But increasingly they are something else, or something more. The issue of migrants and refugees from the Middle East may still be something from which cinema mostly averts its gaze. Not Kaurismäki’s cinema. With his previous film Le Havre, and this very sympathetic and charming new work, The Other Side of Hope, Kaurismäki has made refugees his focus – and done so without appearing to change style or tonal tack. His humane comedy, with its air of unworldly absurdity, has absorbed this idea, but not undermined its seriousness in any way, in fact embraced it with almost miraculous ease and simplicity.’ — Peter Bradshaw
p.s. This restored post from the blog murdered by Google has been expanded a little, so it’s not entirely old anymore. If you choose to spend this weekend with the work of Aki Kaurismäki, you will enjoy yourself, I suspect.