Crime and Punishment (1983, Aki Kaurismäki)

“I killed a louse and became one myself. The number of lice remained constant … I wanted to kill a principle, not a man. Killing a man may have been a mistake.”

Aki’s debut feature, restored in HD to look good as new. And an excellent start to his career it was, setting the pace and tone for so many of his later pictures. It feels nice to get back to his grim deadpan work after recent sidetracks into the Leningrad Cowboys series.

It’s also hard to reconcile this Crime and Punishment with the Sternberg version I just watched. This one seems to depart radically and inexplicably from the story, keeping the title. Raskolnikov is Antti Rahikainen, who is not a student with crime theories but a meat factory worker, and who doesn’t kill a pawnbroker because of profit or some napoleonic vision, but shoots the man who killed his wife in a car accident years earlier. The relationship with the police inspector (Esko Nikkari: Polonius in Hamlet Goes Business) is different here too, but still interesting.

Inspector Polonius:

Antti and his coworker friend:

Antti acts differently all the time according to his conscience: often he’s not just resigned to being caught, but actively self-sabotaging by introducing himself as the killer to a near-witness (caterer Eeva) and handing evidence and his name to workers at the crime scene. Other times he’s ambivalent, starting a semi-romance with Eeva, deceiving the inspector or challenging him to prove Antti’s guilt. And sometimes he’s working towards escape, planting stolen goods on a homeless man (in both movies a poor innocent is taken to the police station and coerced into confessing), procuring a fake passport and plotting with his friend to leave the country.

Arrested homeless man:

There’s no sister in this one, but Eeva has a boss with designs on her who fulfills the Grilov role, and who gets drunkenly killed in traffic towards the end. No complicated theories on the murder or aftermath: “I just found him disgusting. That’s why I killed him.” But Antti’s swings of conscience and reckless behavior keep the tension high. Kaurismaki of course throws in a couple musical numbers, local rock bands doing English-language songs.