For Reel

Shadows in Paradise (1986)
August 16, 2017, 3:38 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Aki Kaurismäki
4 Stars
Shadows in Paradise.jpgAki Kaurismäki’s third film plays with the tropes one might expect of an American romantic comedy—a man and a woman, who are both at a dead end in their lives and have seemingly abandoned all hope, find solidarity in each other that quickly becomes romantic. Nikander’s (Matti Pellonpää) affection seems clear from the beginning, if only because Ilona (Kati Outinen) holds his blank stare for half a second longer than most anything else, but she is flummoxed by him when he doesn’t make a move on her as soon as he takes her home. Like the films of Jim Jarmusch, Shadows in Paradise both dwells in working-class existentialism and savors itself in nostalgia—dingy bars, jukeboxes, and cigarettes evoke a noir atmosphere by way of Nordic deadpan tragi-comedy. Amusingly, the film deals with two people who seem to develop a genuine connection, and yet their romantic highpoints are entirely absent from the film. Instead of pleasant first dates, Kaurismäki shows the couple expressionlessly struggling to communicate. The film ends with a cruise sailing off in the distance—in a Hollywood comedy, this would be a romantic image, but in this world, both the cruise and the horizon seem impossibly grey and depressing.


La Vie de Bohème (1992)
November 22, 2015, 11:45 am
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Director: Aki Kaurismäki
3.5 Stars
La Vie de BohemeThe three outcasts of La Vie de Bohème live in a ramshackle apartment and possess items that might as well be a century old. In this way, director Aki Kaurismäki seems to have no intention of “updating” the famed Henri Merger short stories or the Italian opera on which the film is based. Instead, this story of three struggling artists is incorporated into Kaurismäki’s worldview seamlessly, suggesting a certain timelessness to his outsiders. Both artists and castaways seem to exist within their own sense of temporal space, often invested in a sort of sentimentality and simplicity that suggests a very particular type of idealized “honest” living. Yet Kaurismäki’s envisioning of this space is not grimy as a director like Shirley Clarke might have portrayed it, rather one that prides itself on both a sense of naturalism and a certain Hollywood stylization in the high contrast lighting techniques. If Frank Borage’s depression-era dramas were updated for this generation, they would probably look something like this. La Vie de Bohème’s deadpan humor is effective, but what leaves a greater impression is actually the doomed romances–this is a film that thrives on contrasts, and no greater is the contrast between the dark, fatalistic Finnish humor and the melodramatics of a tragic romance.