Friday, 18 January 2013

Crimes and Punishment of Aki Kaurismaki.

Aki Kaurismaki.
It has been alleged that it was Aki Kaurismaki who put Finland on the map as far as the international festival scene is concerned, but it’s very unlikely you would actually see him at a film festival to collect an award as its more likely that this politically motivated humanitarian writer and director would boycott the ceremony for one good reason or another.

Working at first with his older brother Mika, Aki quickly established himself as the more productive of the two. His style is said to have been influenced by Jean-Pierre Melville and Robert Bresson but you can see the marked footprint of German enfant terrible Rainer Werner Fassbinder, something Aki denies.

The Finnish directors basic approach to film making is to assert a minimalist feel to his work, which would included a simple plot, sparse dialogue, live music and mostly shoot on the streets of Helsinki. His themes cover working class life and aspirations. There’s an apparent sense of humour running through his work, more droll Finnish than black comedy. He tends to use the same actors with Matti Pellonpää appearing in most of his oeuvre.

Crimes and Punishment (1983)

Aki Kaurismaki’s debut feature film was an adaptation of Flodor Dostoyevshy’s Russian novel of the same name first published in1866. Your be pleased to know you don’t have to read the book to appreciate this film! Aki has shifted the setting from St Petersburg to early 1980’s Helsinki and in the process simplifying this 528-page classic.

The revenge of Antti Rahikainen.
When Antti Rahikainen (Markku Toikka) finishes his shift at the local slaughterhouse, he goes to the well-upholstered flat of 50-year-old rich businessman Kari Honkanen and with complete lack of emotion shoots him in the chest! Most people in the same circumstances as Rahikainen would leave the scene of crime pretty pronto but not him he calmly sits contemplating his handy work when Eeva, a caterer originally hired by the newly deceased to furnish a birthday party planned for that evening, walks in on the bloody scene. He tells the girl what he has done and tells her to ring the police and than leaves. Eeva’s describes the culprit as a ‘lunatic with a strange stare’ to which the investigating officer Pennanen reply’s ‘that only increases the number of suspect’s’. Although he really wants to be punished for his crime the police are unable to charge Rahikainen with the murder. In the meantime Eeva strike’s up a curious relationship with Rahikainen when she finds out the reason behind the killing!

This movie brings to mind the recent Norwegian film written by Jo Nesbo Jackpot (2011) that also has some very intense straight-faced acting humour.  Crimes and Punishment (1983) is about the loneliness of the human soul, where an injustice has to be avenged knowing that the authorities are never going to put right. A good example of a simple plot that tells all.

Aki quoted Alfred Hitchcock as claiming that Dostoyevshy’s novel could not be made into a film and said he was happy to show the old man how it should be done, and he did just that.

Calamari Union 1985.

Dedicated to those ghosts of Baudelaire Michaux and Prevert who still hover on this earth…

If Holy Motors (2012) deserves the accolade of being brilliantly bonkers then this movie undoubtedly shares’ that honour. A truly enjoyable but crazy film that I would suggest has been impregnated with a mixture of John Landis’s superb comedy The Blues Brothers (1980) and Tarkovsky’s 1979 masterpiece Stalker.

Our story involves sixteen Franks and a Pekka.
Aki’s second feature film is the story of a journey. A journey that starts in a Helsinki basement and involves sixteen young men called Frank and one called Pekka. All seventeen wear dark classes; have unmistakable 80’s haircuts and a nicotine habit that would fuel a power station. The journey they embark on is to travel across the city from Kallio in the north to the district to Eira, south of the city centre, an area that symbolizes wealth and well-being. It’s a journey that will test our gallant travellers and some may never survive the trip coming up against the dangers posed by art galleries, cinemas, cafes, amusement arcades and of course the biggest distraction of them all: women. Starting at night with hardly any money the Franks, plus one, break into an underground station and highjack a train, chloroforming the guard who wakes up and shoots one of the Franks… and its only the beginning of their bizarre excursion.

Hamlet Gets Business 1987.

Hamlet (Pirkka-Pekka Petelius) is the son of a successful businessman, but when his father dies – a death brought about by his ambitious uncle Klaus (Esko Salminen) who is having an affair with Hamlet’s mother Gertrud (Elina Salo) – the young man seems to have no interest in the wealth and power he has inherited. He doesn’t really have a head for business and spends his time instead writing poetry to Ofelia (Kati Outinen) – the daughter of senior manager Polonious (Esko Nikkari) - and doodling with crayons at important boardroom meetings. But Hamlet is not blind to the business of murder or the scheming that is going on around him, and intends to oppose and expose their activities.[1]

Hamlets mum gets close to his uncle.
Kaurismaki transposed Shakespeare’s Hamlet to film via this intriguing 1987 movie Hamlet Gets Business bringing out the dark humour of the Bards melodramatic tale of betrayal and murder and sticking to the originals plot structure by treading the well warn path of son seeking revenge for his fathers murder but now set in the corporate business world of rubber duck manufacture in modern day Helsinki. In his own inevitable way Aki attacks the commercial world of big business. Perhaps not quite up to the standard of the two previous films, but well worth a look all the same.

La Vie de Boheme 1992.

Rodolfo, Marcel Marx and Schaunard.
Aki Kaurismaki’s latest film Le Havre (2011) is said to be a follow up to La Vie de Boheme (The Bohemian Life) (1992) and features some of the same actor’s including Evelyne Didi, Jean-Pierre Leaud and of course Andre Wilms who plays the same character, Marcel Marx, just as he did 19 years ago. La Vie de Boheme is the director’s first film in the French language and set in 1960’s Paris. Freely adapted from Henri Murgers 1851 novel Scenes de la vie de boheme, the original source of Puccini’s opera, It tells a bittersweet tragedy that involves three marginalised odd balls that refuse to be dictated to on how to live their lives, and on their search for ‘true’ love.

Rodolfo comforts the love of his life.
Struggling French writer Marcel Marx is evicted from his run down garret owing three months rent. Retiring to a local coffee establishment he meets and befriends Rodolfo (Matti Pellonpää) an Albanian painter with whom he shares some wine and a two-headed trout. The two men return to Marcel’s former flat to find it occupied by an avant-garde Irish composer by the name of Schaunard (Kari Väänänen), opening another bottle of wine, a life long affinity is formed between our three protagonists who attempt to help each other through life’s ups and many downs.  

When Marcel gets a editing job he buys Schaunard a car to get them about and only in Aki’s films would this advancement mean a three wheeled Reliant Robin! This darkly comic adaptation with its anarchic humour is not really a story in the true sense of the word but more of a timeframe which gradually drift’s through the bohemian lives and loves of these three very likable eccentrics.


Aki in a more cheerful mood.
In the special feature accompanying the Crimes and Punishment DVD Jonathan Ross carries out an interview with the director at the Midnight Sun Film Festival near the Artic circle in 1990. Aki’s gives the impression that he is certainly a cruff misanthrope when he describes his films as shite and as far as he is concerned has never made a movie he’s actually liked and hates them all. Expressing a wish that nobody should bother see his films, describing the people that do as masochists.  Professing that life is a serious business and that he does not like to hear people laugh as it makes far to much noise, Ross asked him why his film’s contained minimal dialogue he replied that in his opinion people talk too much!

But I don’t think we should take to much notice of what Aki Kaurismaki says, but to let his insanely socially realistic movies speak for themselves with their simple plots, their humour and appealing cinematic composition. Never afraid to work in black and white or to support the marginalised underclass he is a working filmmaker to be admired and applauded.

[1] DVD Synopsis.

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