Poor French shoeshine guy Marcel, who doesn’t know his wife has terminal cancer, comes across an illegally-immigrated kid from Gabon who escaped from a shipping container. The boy hopes to get to London, but Marcel needs to raise 3000 euros for the smugglers to take him across. Meanwhile the kid’s photo is in the papers (caption: “connections to Al-Qaeda?”) and a police inspector is hot on their trail.
Sounds dreary, but wait! Kaurismaki somehow turns this into a political fantasy, tossing realism aside and assigning all characters extreme benevolence. Tack on a miraculous ending – Marcel’s beloved wife recovers from her cancer – and somehow the darkly ironic A.K. has made the feel-good movie of the year. A perfect example of Katy’s current interest in socially-conscious fiction imagining an idealized future.
Oh yeah, in order to raise the money, Marcel convinces local celebrity Little Bob to hold a “trendy charity concert,” in exchange for ending a dispute between Bob and his wife.
Marcel is Andre Wilms, who apparently played the same character in La Vie de Boheme, and his wife is Kati Outinen, Ophelia in Hamlet Goes Business. Marcel and young Idrissa are helped out by baker Yvette, her mom (Elina Salo – Gertrud in Hamlet Goes Business), Marcel’s fellow shoeshiner “Chang” (actually Vietnamese), and eventually the police inspector himself (Jean-Pierre Darroussin, star of Red Lights). Director Pierre Etaix plays the wife’s doctor. The only irredeemable character, a local meddler who twice tries to get Idrissa arrested, is played by Jean-Pierre Leaud.
Won some prizes with funny names at Cannes but got trounced by The Artist at the Cesars.
Those of us who have been following Kaurismaki’s cinema over the past twenty-five or so years will not be surprised by this vote of confidence in the human race. We may immediately recognize un film d’Aki by his patented brand of affective reserve and rumpled formalism – he favors blue and beige foregrounds that hold the light with a warm, painterly glow; tends to limit camera movement; tamps down overt drama from his performers; and envelops this deadpan field of action with a unique musical ambience, chiefly derived from 1950s and ’60s rockabilly. There’s also a fair amount of free-flowing alcohol. But it’s his artistic and empathetic alignment with society’s outcasts that truly defines his cinema. The world of Finland’s highest-profile auteur, not unlike that of Howard Hawks, is one of hard-won faith in basic decency, an unsentimental humanism that can even squeeze in space for love.