Posts Tagged ‘Aki Kaurismaki’

The Man Without a Past (2002) Now on Prime Video


Dir\Writer: Aki Kaurismaki: Cast: Markku Peltola, Kati Outinen, Sakar Kuosmanen; Finland/France/Germany 2002; 97 min.

Like many auteurs of his generation, Aki Kaurismaki is entirely self-taught. After a working life spent as a postman and film critic amongst other things, he turned his hand to film-making in the eighties and has been incredibly successful in his endeavour, producing his own films and distributing them through his own company Alphaville, and even showing them at his own arthouse cinemas in Finland. Often working with his elder brother Mika, they have shaped the face of Finnish cinema, crafting one-fifth of the Finnish film industry’s total output since 1981.

In love with the past and Finland’s lugubrious hard-drinking working classes, often down on their luck – anything post 1980 does not interest Kaurismaki visually and he made this retro look his trademark. The Man Without a Past sees him create another antihero, this time the director doesn’t even give him a name, in the credits he is just ‘M’.

M (his beloved Markku Peltola) arrives one Spring evening in Helsinki, with a small suitcase. Resting on a park bench he nods off and is attacked by three young men, who leave him for dead. Coming round in a rain-soaked stupor, he makes his way to A&E where retrograde amnesia is diagnosed. Discharged from hospital and homeless, he makes his way to a container site where he rents a place to rest his head from a conman called Antilla (Kuosmanen). The geezer exploits those down on their luck. His ‘fierce’ dog Hannibal turns out to be submissive, snuggling up with M on his bed. All this plays out with Kaurismaki’s classic blend of eccentric situational humour which is light on dialogue and heavy on innuendo.

M can’t remember a thing about his life but when he catches sight of a couple of metal workers down near the port he feels a strange affinity to their daily grind, leading him to believe he was a welder in a former life. Turning to the Samaritans for help, he falls in love with Irma (Outinen) and a new lease of life. Soon he’ part of a swing band with the local Samaritans, and manages to secure some welding work. But his luck turns sour when he gets caught up in a bank robbery and this brush with the police leads to his identification. It soon emerges he was married, but his wife divorced him on account of his gambling. When M travels back to his home town by train he finds her living in their former marital dwelling with a boyfriend. M is only too relieved he doesn’t have to fight it out with his rival, returning back to Irma in Helsinki and eventual revenge.

Kaurismaki’s classic absurdist humour is an acquired taste and The Man Without a Past is one of the best examples. When M cooks dinner for Irma in his container, she asks politely “Are you sure, I can’t help”. His deadpan response is: “I think it’s ruined already”. Later when an electrician has helped him connect his container to a power source, M asks how he could return the favour. The man answers matter of factly: “If you see me lying in the gutter face down, turn me on my back”.

Kaurismaki is best compared with Preston Sturges and his comedies of the 30s; his heroes are like the actors Buster Keaton used to preferred, “they can’t raise their voice, their only reaction are furrowed brows”. DOP Timo Salminen, who shot nearly all of Kaurismaki’s films, shows Finland as a morose country where suicide, poverty, hunger and alcoholism is rife. All this is borne, (according to the director) “out of the change in society from a mainly agricultural country, to an industrialised one – many feel rootless and alienated from the country, in a place where high rise blocks and unemployment kill the soul. ” This, and his beloved band music, are the touchstones of his film career that started in 1991.

The Man Without a Past won the Grand Prix at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, Kati Outinen best actress. AS


Le Havre (2011) **** MUBI


Dir: Aki Kaurismäki | Cast: Andre Wilmes, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Kati Outinen, Blondin Miguel, Evelyne Didi | French with English subtitles.  Cert12

Finnish director, Aki Kaurismäki has invented his own genre of ‘contemporary retro’ with an improbable and deadpan drama set in 1950s Le Havre.  It’s a drôle French version of The Archers that doesn’t take itself too seriously. You know the kind of thing:  an everyday story of gentlefolk in a close-knit community where a kindly lawyer-shoe-shiner (Wilmes) is harbouring a nicely-behaved child deportee, who also happens to be black, from the clutches of absurdly buttoned-up and ineffectual Inspector Monet. Jean-Paul Darroussian gives a tongue-in-cheek turn in the style of Inspector Clouseau.

The man in question is Marcel Marx. At first he strikes an odd figure as this desiccated do-gooder, with his dog-eared existence and wife Arletty who’s also seen better days. But these two are likeable and happy in their threadbare existence, making ends meet with the support of local traders who expect nothing in return for their daily supplies.  The  grocer (Francois Monnie), the baker (Evelyne Didi) and the brassy barmaid, with her endless aperitifs ‘on the house’ are all well-cast and amusing.  There’s a comforting rhythm to this bizarre harbourside drama. Authentic yet highly unlikely, you wish – in some ways – that life was as simple as this.  Billed as a comedy there are dark moments too, when Arletty gets cancer and Darroussin goes on the prowl with a pineapple, but this is downtown utopia not Les Miserables.

Kaurismäki originally had the idea to do the uplifting French tale along the lines of  “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, but opted only for the latter: “The other two were always too optimistic. But fraternité you can find anywhere, even in France!” Though life is sometimes gloomy in cloudy Le Havre, Aki makes sure the clouds have a silver lining. MT ©


Centro Historico (2012) Kino Otok 2014

Directors: Pedro Costa, Víctor Erice, Aki Kaurismäki, Manoel de Oliveira

Writer: Pedro Costa, Víctor Erice, Aki Kaurismäki, Manoel de Oliveira

Main Actors: Ilkka Koivula, Ventura, António Santos, Manuel ‘Tito’ Furtado, Valdemar Santos, Amândio Martins, Henriqueta Oliveira, Ricardo Trêpa.

80mins       Portuguese with English subtitles          Portugal

As befitting its title, the centre of this four-part portmanteau project consists of two densely woven examinations into recent history: Pedro Costa’s Sweet Exorcist and Víctor Erice’s Broken Windows. Surrounding these segments are Aki Kaurismäki’s drolly deadpan opener Tavern Man and Manoel de Oliveira’s playfully fluffy closer The Conquered Conqueror. Costa has said publicly that the film ‘doesn’t work’ and, voicing a seemingly common consensus, that portmanteau films ‘never work’. But in saying this, Costa is at least partially wrong: Centro Histórico may well be the exception that proves the rule, the juxtaposition of the lighter and heavier sections gracing the overall film with a coherent balance rarely found in works of this kind. If the Kaurismäki and de Oliveira sections would seem overly slight in isolation, they work all the better when placed against the richness of the other works.

Centro Histórico was commissioned as a celebration of Guimarães, the 2012 European Capital of Culture, and the directors were asked to make films about memory and history – themes amply explored by Costa and Erice. Indeed, Erice’s documentary segment engages directly with the recollected past, comprised as it is of a number of interviews with former workers of a now-defunct textile factory. As the interviews unfold, they weave a surprisingly poignant, philosophical and tender tapestry of the lives lived within the factory walls.

Meanwhile, in Centro Histórico‘s best section, Costa reteams with Ventura, who previously featured in his films Colossal Youth (2006), Tarrafal (2007) and The Rabbit Hunters (2007). A surreal examination into the legacy of the 1974 Portuguese revolution, Costa has said that everything in Sweet Exorcist grew out of a story told to him by Ventura – and thus memory and history are once more intertwined in the very fabric of the film’s creation. Caught in a hospital elevator, Ventura encounters the ghost of a soldier, leading to a pointed exploration of black experience during the revolution. The film is haunting and mysterious – a sweet exorcism indeed. The fact that the stunning opening images of people walking through foliage recall Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie (1943) reminds us that Costa is engaging not only with the history of Portugal, but also with the history of cinema – and, perhaps, even with his own history (Costa loosely remade I Walked with a Zombie as Casa de Lava in 1995).

It’s been said that the film’s funders were disappointed with the finished film, and it’s probably true that Centro Histórico fails as a celebration of Guimarães. But as a piece of cinema, it excels on almost every level. ALEX BARRETT

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