A couple runs into some hard luck, and perseveres.
Same lead actress and ending as Le Havre.
Obviously, the movie I needed right now.
A couple runs into some hard luck, and perseveres.
Same lead actress and ending as Le Havre.
Obviously, the movie I needed right now.
Watched on Kaurismaki’s birthday, this movie suddenly taking priority after I learned that André Wilms’s character Marcel from Le Havre originated here. Not as much rock music as usual for A.K., but prime cut “Leave My Kitten Alone” plays in a major scene. My second movie this week where someone is given two opera tickets instead of cash. I don’t think the dubbed French quite works, and Sam Fuller’s French seems quite bad, but quite the droll movie.
Marcel is a drunk writer, who meets a couple other poverty-level artists including composer Kari “Polonius” Väänänen, and they become fast friends, sharing cash and a car and living spaces. The painter (Matti Pellonpää, manager of the Leningrad Cowboys) gains a benefactor in Jean-Pierre Leaud then gets deported, Marcel gets set up by publisher Fuller, women come and go but the painter’s love Mimi (Evelyne Didi, great) sticks with them until the end.
With the composer, left, in their ridiculous three-wheeled car:
Mimi with Rodolfo:
The MFG pays the bills, does all the cooking and cleaning for her mom and stepdad, but they still kick her out when she gets knocked up by hateful Aarne. Then she buys some rat poison and takes care of her tormentors. For such an unrelentingly dark premise, the movie itself is very fun, with good music of course (accordion and surf guitar).
AK’s 7th feature… played Berlin in some sidebar I don’t understand, same year as Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and The Asthenic Syndrome. Opened in the USA belatedly, where it had the misfortune to be up against Raise The Red Lantern in the critics’ awards. MFG Kati Outinen has been in everything, was the sick wife in Le Havre, costarred with her mom again in Drifting Clouds. Her brother is a Leningrad Cowboy, and her dad is Polonius.
Her brother’s apartment is sweet:
Another magical drama about a refugee in hiding with a carefully balanced comic tone, this was inevitably going to be compared to Le Havre, my favorite movie of a few years back, and fall slightly short. But it’s nice to have more of refugee Khaled’s story in this one, as opposed to near-mute Idrissa in Le Havre, and the acknowledgement of the racism and xenophobia within the country’s citizens fueling the policies that are making it so difficult for him to gain asylum in Finland.
Syrian Khaled has bounced through ten countries on his way to Finland and is desperate to locate his one surviving relative, his sister Miriam, and bring her to a safer place. His Iraqi friend Mazdak offers communications help to look for the girl while Khaled finds work with Wikström (Leningrad Cowboy Sakari Kuosmanen), who has left his wife for reasons unknown and purchased a dumpy restaurant. Wikström and Khaled are given too little shared screen time for us to watch them bond (alongside a cute dog and three bedraggled employees who came with the building), but Wikström proves to be big-hearted, protecting his newest employee from the elements and the authorities.
Kaurismäki won best director in Berlin (A Fantastic Woman, Félicité, On the Beach at Night Alone). My moviegoing companions were surprised and appalled that Finland would not offer Khaled asylum and try to have him deported, but now that I’ve seen Stranger in Paradise, nothing is surprising. Others were dismayed by all the screen time given to amateur performances of rockabilly songs, but I preferred those to the half hour of backstory showing how Wikström came to run a restaurant. I recognized Kati Outinen (the wife in Le Havre) in one scene, and restaurant doorman Ilkka Koivula (probably also from Le Havre), but that apparently was not Carel Struycken as a bartender.
“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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.