“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.

The Benaki Museum (2013, Athina Tsangari)

Lovely seven-minute advertisement for a Greek museum narrated by Willem Dafoe, children acting as curators, interacting with ancient artworks.

The Boy Who Saw the Iceberg (2000, Paul Driessen)

Crazy… split-screen with a boy’s ordinary day on the left and his imagination (which usually involves being captured and making a daring escape on the right. Then he and his family die when travelling on a boat that hits an iceberg. The imagination side takes another minute to adjust to this ending. Animation is fluid, doodly and wonderful. Driessen is Dutch, has a long career of award-winning shorts.

The Lost Thing (2010, Tan & Ruhemann)

Dude is collecting bottlecaps when he finds a Lost Thing (sort of an armored contraption with mechanical parts, jingle bells and tentacles), seeks its origins, finally returns it to a secret area in the city where crazy mecha-organic beasts all live. Won the oscar, same year as Day & Night. Tan created the source book, Ruhemann lately produced something called Chuck Norris vs. Communism.

Zerox and Mylar (1995, Joel Brinkerhoff)

Wicked one-minute claymation thing. Cat wants to lure mouse, paints his hand like a lady mouse, but mouse traps the lady-mouse-hand and has his way with it/her. Brinkerhoff is obviously a madman, apparently worked on Marvin the Martian in the Third Dimension, which is on one of the Looney Tunes blu-rays.

The Temptation of Mr. Prokouk (1947, Karel Zeman)

Mr. Prokouk is building his own house when he’s tempted by the evils of alcohol. After going on a massive bender and literally losing his head, he recovers, murders the ghostly barrel-shaped liquor salesman who got Prokouk hooked on the stuff, and continues with the house building. I dig the little birds who build a nest on his sign.

Mr. Schwarzwald’s and Mr. Edgar’s Last Trick (1964, Jan Svankmajer)

Svankmajer’s first short! Stop-motion, live actors, painting and puppetry, all very well blended, with extreme close-ups, frequent zooms and super fast edits. So JS was accomplished at making great-looking, creepy films from the very start. Two wooden-mask-faced magicians take turns performing elabotate tricks, aggressively shaking hands after each one, until the handshake turns lethal and they tear each other apart.

Your Acquaintance aka The Journalist (1927, Lev Kuleshov)

A 15-minute excerpt from a feature. Possibly Kuleshov’s follow-up to the great Dura Lex – IMDB isn’t so clear on Russian cinema. Aleksandra Khokhlova (Kuleshov’s wife, crazy Edith from Dura Lex) is a newspaper columnist who gets fired for turning in an article late while she was distracted by a handsome rich man. That’s about all I got from this fragment, plot-wise.

Edition Filmmuseum:

She is a modern woman, in-your-face and interesting in both the way she dresses and the way she handles the men who surround her in her everyday working life: she writes almost all of them off as wimps but the one she loves, a functionary, proves to be a conformist: disappointment ensues … The mise-en-scène is unique, with razor-sharp contours and extreme lighting provided on the one hand by Aleksandr Rodchenko with his constructivist design of the materialistic world, and on the other hand by cameraman Konstantin Kuznecov with his “svetotvorchestvo” (light-making) already known from [Dura Lex].

The Tony Longo Trilogy (2014, Thom Andersen)

A found-footage piece, Andersen taking three films and isolating only the scenes with imposing character actor Tony Longo in them. Tony is an ineffective doorman in The Takeover, is seeking Justin Theroux in Mulholland Dr., and fights with Rob Lowe before being murdered by Jim Belushi in Living in Peril. Why was Thom Andersen watching Tony Longo movies? Tony died soon after this came out, unrelated to the fact that IMDB says he was once struck in the mouth by lightning.

Cinema Scope:

What makes the videos in The Tony Longo Trilogy both exciting and frivolous is that it’s not terribly difficult to imagine Andersen repeating the operation for Tony Longo’s other hundred-odd screen credits, or, to push the idea to its limit, for anyone who’s ever appeared in a motion picture.

Riot (2015, Nathan Silver)

Home movies of 9-year-old Nathan reenacting the LA riots in his back yard wearing a Ren & Stimpy shirt

Uncle (1959, Jaromil Jires)

Kid in crib makes friends with the thief breaking into his house. Jires’s second short, still in film school. Uncle Vlastimil Brodsky was already an established actor, would later star in many Jiri Menzel films and Autumn Spring.

Tramwaj (1966, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
Silent… guy is miserable at a party, so leaves and gets on a dismal night train where he tries to impress a sleepy girl. One of Kieslowski’s first shorts, made in film school.

Logorama (2009, Alaux & Houplain & de Crecy)

Fantastic concept, a world made only of corporate logos. The writing and voice acting could’ve been better though. After creating this graphic-design logo monstrosity, they fill it with some sub-Tarantino cops-and-robbers shootout stuff, Michelin cops fighting a rogue Ronald McDonald. Logorama beat A Matter of Loaf and Death at the oscars, also won awards at Cannes and the Cesars. Two of the directors went on to make a tie-in short to a Tom Clancy video game series. David Fincher did a voice, along with the writer of Se7en and a guy with small roles in half of Fincher’s movies.

Sniffer (2006, Bobbie Peers)

Sniffer works as a deodorant tester in a world where people wear metal boots to keep from floating off. One day after seeing a pigeon crash into a window, Sniffer decides it’d be nice to float off, and unstraps his boots. Norwegian, I think.

The Foundry (2007, Aki Kaurismaki)

Seen this before in an anthology but now it’s available in HD so I watched again.

Sequelitis. Tyrannical band manager Vladimir returns from the wilderness claiming to be Moses, leads the group to Coney Island then to Siberia, stealing the nose of the Statue of Liberty along the way. Andre Wilms, star of Le Havre, plays an American agent on their tail trying to return the nose. Cowritten by two band members and featuring much of the gang from the first movie plus a Jarmusch cameo. Vladimir died of a heart attack the next year, so no more sequels, but there’s a concert film called Total Balalaika Show, which Hulu wouldn’t let me watch.

“Do you know Mexico?”
“… Sure.”
“Go there.”

Ridiculous comedy about soviet musicians who head to America to find their fortune. The movie’s deadpan consistency won me over. By the time the “deceased” band member they’ve been carrying frozen atop their car thaws out and joins them mid-song (a development I saw coming an hour earlier but still enjoyed watching), I was happy that there are sequels to look forward to.

Bunch of guys who look like TV’s Frank and wear pointy clown shoes to match their haircuts go on a road trip through America (from NYC to Mexico), playing small clubs along the way. They’re all pretty indistinguishable except for their tyrannical manager, the long-lost cousin they pick up somewhere in Texas, and the idiot Igor who followed them from home attempting to help. A.K. lets the songs play out, making it a sort of concert film.

Kaurismaki was in synch with Jarmusch, shooting in all the same locations as his earlier Down By Law the same year Jim was filming the similarly rockabilly-referencing Mystery Train. He appears as a car dealer in this one. The Idiot is Kari Väänänen (Polonius in Hamlet Goes Business) – he and band manager Matti Pellonpää have been in a bunch of Kaurismaki’s movies.

Igor at a Memphis barber shop:

Thru the Wire (1987)

Criterion/Hulu also had some of A.K.’s short films. This is a noirish clip – Nicky Tesco (cousin/vocalist from the feature) escapes from prison, seeks his woman while being chased by cops.

Rocky VI (1986)

Giant Russian Igor completely destroys wispy American Rocky (and some officials) in the ring. The music track is dark, with layered vocal samples – and yodeling, at one point.

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.

M. Sicinski:

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.

Opening titles: we hear a nice Tom Waits song (the soundtrack is great overall) and see “JVC PRESENTS.” Didn’t JVC used to make blank tapes? The kind that weren’t even as good as Maxell?

Five segments in five cities. Has cute parts, and I guess it’s part of the greater Jarmusch body of work or whatever, but also kinda feels like something that could’ve safely stayed in 1991 (or maybe ’93; it was ahead of its time). What’s funny is that it doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that should get easily dated (except through the usual – fashions, cars, mobile phones – only period pieces are immune to those) but it has this early 90’s aura about it, like Smoke or a Hal Hartley movie, which I don’t see in Dead Man or Down By Law or Mystery Train. Maybe it’s just Winona Ryder. Anyway this remains my least favorite Jarmusch picture, though I did enjoy it overall. If you could break it up Coffee & Cigarettes-style, it’d be nice to lead from New York straight into Helsinki, and maybe add Rome every third or fourth viewing.

LA: Winona Ryder is a midget phonebook-sitting wannabe-mechanic driving fancypants cellphone-calling casting agent Gena Rowlands home from the airport. Gena’s client is looking for a tough young girl, an unknown, so predictably she propositions Winona, who turns Gena down. Jim says it’s the first movie Gena agreed to do after John Cassavetes died. I never made it past this segment when I first tried to watch Night On Earth a decade ago… pixie Winona is too hard to take as a street tough.

NY: East German Armin Mueller-Stahl (same year he did Soderbergh’s Kafka) is new to New York and cab driving, so passenger Giancarlo Esposito takes over, picking up sister-in-law Rosie Perez for a miniature Do The Right Thing reunion, wide-eyed Armin taking it all in.

Paris: Isaach De Bankolé (stolen from Claire Denis) kicks out some diplomats, picks up a blind girl (Beatrice Dalle, star of Time of the Wolf, also a Claire Denis regular) and asks her a bunch of dunderheaded questions.

Rome: Roberto Benigni picks up a priest, drives like a madman (but there’s no traffic so it’s cool) visits a couple transvestites, and tells horribly perverted stories until the priest dies after dropping his meds on the floor and Roberto quietly unloads him on a park bench.

Helsinki: Cabbie picks up three guys from a hard night on the town. Of course all four of them have been in Kaurismaki films (one of the passengers played Polonius in Hamlet Goes Business. They tell their drunk friend’s hard luck story and the cabbie replies with his own hard luck story. Way to end your movie on a dead baby tale there, Jim.

Nice color cinematography by Frederick Elmes (a Lynch regular who later shot Broken Flowers) – not seen here cuz it was a rental and I forgot to get screen shots.

Supposedly part of a comic deadpan losers trilogy, but given what little I’ve seen of Kaurismaki’s cinema (Hamlet Goes Business and two shorts) it seems you could grab any three movies and call those his comic deadpan losers trilogy. This wasn’t awfully comic, either. I remember laughing a bit in the first half hour, but after our hero goes to jail and gets increasingly hopeless and depressed, nobody would call it a comedy anymore.

Koistinen is a loser security guard with a good heart and little apparent sense, no interests and no friends. One day a hot blonde starts pursuing him. They date, she asks questions about his job, finally drugs him, steals his keys and hands them over to her actual gangster boyfriend who robs the jewelry store Koistinen was supposed to be protecting. K. spends some time in jail (framed for participating in the heist), gets out, lands in a halfway house, is fired from an even more menial job as a dishwasher (again prompted by the fatale girl’s boyfriend) and in the last minute is found destitute on the streets by the snack bar girl who always liked him and given a happy, hopeful final couple of seconds (in the film, not in his life – he survives).

I was enjoying the rock songs. I thought one of ’em was in the same style as “Rich Little Bitch” from Hamlet Goes Business, until I realized it’s the exact same song. He used the same song (and prominently) in two movies twenty years apart. Movie is great to look at, and very Jarmusch-cool (although I know it’s actually vice-versa) but the story is kinda minor and depressing.

V. Rizov:

Newcomers to Kaurismäki should understand that a character’s facial expressions give almost no clue as to what’s going on; everyone has a poker face that makes Buster Keaton look thoroughly emotive. A visit to Kaurismäki’s land of perpetual misery is always perversely comic — the characters and situations shoot past miserabilist drudgery quickly: The worse things get, the funnier they are. But Kaurismäki’s sentimentality is a double-edged sword, as it prevents his movies from being shallow one-note exercises but can also suck the life from them.

I. Johnston:

Underneath it all, and in spite of a popular tendency to read his films along hip-cool-quirky lines, Kaurismaki is an old-fashioned romantic, layering his films with a charming retro appeal. There’s a wider political-ideological connotation to this, a deliberate disassociation from the values of the globalised monetarist contemporary world in favour of those “loser” heroes of his who simply fail (where they don’t more overtly refuse) to adapt to the demands of that world. Kaurismaki loves his characters, those few — in the case of Lights in the Dusk, Koistinen and Aila — who maintain values of humanity, authenticity, love, and moral action. And the director places them in a social environment that seems out of kilter with the modern world: hence, the retro décor, the pop songs from years past, the tango music, and the old-fashioned rock’n’roll (hip-hop’s made no impact here).

The snack bar girl apparently plays the lead in that movie about the photographer for which I saw trailers for three months before it came and went quietly one week at the Landmark.

Where did this movie come from, and what happened to it? How come this and Chacun du cinema, anthology films with tons of super-famous directors, aren’t well known and out on video? Paris, Je T’aime did pretty well, right? Whatever… we’ve got two 90-minute anthologies here, “The Trumpet” (the first seven listed below) and “The Cello”. Each has short films with the theme of ten minutes, or else something to do with time and the number ten. Each begins with some light jazz, abstract images of water, then the signature of the director on a black background and the title of the short.


The Trumpet

Aki Kaurismäki – Dogs Have No Hell
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More dry wit from Aki. Guy spends the night in jail, gets out and has ten minutes until the train leaves for Siberia (via Moscow). In that ten minutes, he finds a girl he knows, proposes to her, buys a wedding ring and gets them both train tickets. Not much in itself, but a good start to the anthology, setting up the whole ten minutes thing.

Víctor Erice – Lifeline
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A sleeping baby starts bleeding while its twenty-or-more family members are each doing their own thing. Time passes, tension mounts. Someone finally notices the baby and fixes him up, no problem. Great camerawork here! The kid above is listening to a watch he drew on his wrist.

Werner Herzog – Ten Thousand Years Older
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A sad ten-minute documentary. Twenty years ago in Brazil, contact was made with the last tribe of people anywhere in the world who didn’t have watches and t-shirts and chicken pox. We gave them all three of those things, the chicken pox killed most of them, and now there aren’t many left. Werner, along with a member from the original team, checks up on them. The younger generation is embarrassed by their parents, want to move to the city. The older ones, represented by the war chief (above right, with his brother on left) ponder their fates and the passage of time.

Jim Jarmusch – Int. Trailer Night
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Chloe Sevigny tries to unwind in her trailer on a film shoot for ten minutes. There are interruptions. It’s pretty, but what else is it?

Wim Wenders – Twelve Miles to Trona
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Wenders manages to make a ten-minute desert road movie. This is kinda hilarious actually… straight guy accidentally overdoses on unknown hallucinogenic drug, has to drive himself to the hospital in another town ten minutes away. He doesn’t make it, but a passerby gets him there and he’s okay. Looked a bit like one of those Masters of Horror episodes where they mess with the camera to make things look trippy, but it pulled me in pretty well. They played two loud Eels songs from the Souljacker album.

Spike Lee – We Wuz Robbed
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A compressed mini-doc about Bush II stealing the 2000 presidential election from Gore (with help from the mass media and supreme court), snappy and nicely done, using all interviews and TV news graphics.

Chen Kaige – 100 Flowers Hidden Deep
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Crazy guy brings a moving company to a dirt lot to move his furniture. Finally they pretend like they’re moving furniture to appease the guy, until one mover “drops” a “vase” and breaks it. Not great, but cute. Wish it didn’t end with an awful, sub-2046 wireframe 3D animation though.


The Cello

Three of the seven Trumpet shorts made me tear up with emotion (hint: Spike Lee yes, Wim Wenders no), but most of the Cello disc left me sad, tired or bored. Huge difference there, but I’d rather have it that way than have the crap diluting the good stuff over both discs. If only the Michael Radford short had been on the Trumpet disc, I could’ve just sold Cello.

Bernardo Bertolucci – Histoire d’eaux
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I kinda liked this, but it still gave me a sort of “uh oh” feeling about The Cello when it started. Foreigner (Indian?) is in Italy with a pile of other foreigners, confused thinks he’s in Germany. Old guy wanders away from the group asks our man for a drink of water. Our man finds a girl, fixes her motorcycle, marries her, has kids, gets a nice job, buys a car, crashes the car, wanders off from the car crash site and sees the old man still waiting for his water.

Claire Denis – Vers Nancy
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A dry, academic conversation on a train about outsiders & foreigners, with the writer and one of the actors of Denis’ 2004 feature The Intruder. I haven’t seen Intruder, but this is obviously a companion piece, prequel or commentary on it. It almost put me to sleep, and I wasn’t even tired.

Mike Figgis – About Time 2
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Figgis was the oscar-nom director of Leaving Las Vegas, but I don’t think the producers of Ten Minutes Older realized that in 2002 his career was on the verge of death after Timecode and the critically bashed Hotel (it would die for real the following year with Cold Creek Manor). This is a nonsense short, shot Timecode-style. So far, it is the least-bearable ten minutes I have watched this year… I was itching to fast-forward.

Jean-Luc Godard – Dans le noir du temps
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In collaboration with Anne-Marie Miéville, I think this was actually a trailer for Histoire(s) du Cinema. They’re definitely related. The most unfortunate similarity to Histoire(s) is that this was only partially translated – none of the onscreen French text has subtitles.

Jirí Menzel – One Moment
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A very nice tribute (using archive footage) to Czech actor Rudolf Hrusínský who acted in more than ten of Menzel’s movies and died in 1994.

Michael Radford – Addicted to the Stars
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Guy travels 80 light years in suspended animation in a space capsule, gets back to earth and doctors say he has only aged ten minutes. Goes to visit his son, who was a young boy when he went away, now a very old man. Movie has an awesome sci-fi look to it, and I liked the story and atmosphere – a very nice short, my favorite of the Cello bunch. Fresh off Lara Croft Tomb Raider, Daniel Craig starred as the astronaut.

Volker Schlöndorff – The Enlightenment
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Camera zooms around an outdoor party while unseen narrator ponders the nature of time. At end camera flies into a bug light and dies. It turns out we have been a mosquito. Har!

István Szabó – Ten Minutes After
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Szabó is the Hungarian director of Lovefilm and Sunshine – I haven’t seen anything else of his. A husband comes home extremely drunk and angry, starts storming around the house while his wife watches upset, “what’s wrong? you never drink!”, finally he tries to strangle her, she stabs him, emergency crew arrives in like fifteen seconds, cops question her, the end. Why? I thought it was gonna be all one long shot, but then I saw a cut towards the end, so there were probably a couple others.

When the ghost tells Hamlet to avenge his death, he calls Hamlet stupid and H replies “Get on with it, it’s cold and I don’t want to be late for dinner.” This ain’t your gramma’s Hamlet!! It’s a black-and-white Finnish satire of the business world. In corporate Finland, there are no good guys, no sympathetic souls, just murderous fiends who all want to get ahead. Thus, it turns out Hamlet poisoned his own father, and in the end he is dispatched by the family chauffeur, a spy for the workers’ union.

Movie does have its funny parts (which include Polonius’s mustache), but I regret I can’t say it was a total delight to watch. Not a chore, either, and not mediocre or a waste of time, just a mild success, a Jarmusch-reminiscent dark comedy. All that Shakespeare probably held it back (although he cut all soliloquies and cut the story to a sleek 85 minutes). I’m still optimistic, wanna check out more Kaurismäki soon.

Our… hero?
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Polonius and his mustache:
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I liked the music… this band got to play a whole song in the middle of the movie. Note found online: “the film features a live performance of the song Rich Little Bitch by Melrose, a Finnish rock trio very popular at the time when the film was made.”
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Choice Kaurismaki quote: “When I was young, I would sit in the bath and ideas would come to me. But I’m not young any more, so now I just sit in the bath.”

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