Tag Archives: Aki Kaurismaki

Le Havre

Le Havre

Format: Cinema

Dates: 6 April 2012

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

Writer: Aki Kaurismäki

Cast: André Wilms, Kati Outinen, Blondin Miguel, Jean-Pierre Darroussin

Finland/France 2011

93 mins

Le Havre is Aki Kaurismäki’s first film since 2006, which begs the question: is the previously prolific Finnish director slowing down with age, or is he having difficulty finding financing? Directed with a lighter touch than usual, and coming complete with a real feel-good element, this charming fable could (if not provide the box-office smash he deserves) certainly win him some new fans.

Although Kaurismäki’s films have always had a social element, his recent work has tackled such issues more directly. Thus we had unemployment in Drifting Clouds (1996) and homelessness in The Man without a Past (2002), and now in Le Havre we have immigration. The simple plot involves a young African boy (Blondin Miguel), who arrives at the French port in a shipping container and is helped by locals to hide from the authorities.

Filmed with the same apparent simplicity that marked his debut Crime and Punishment (1983) and all 16 subsequent films, Le Havre is unmistakably a Kaurismäki film. This ‘simplicity’ - still cameras, close-ups of objects and faces, head-on camera angles - somehow seems quirkier and more unusual now than ever before. In a world where filmmakers seem so eager to show off their talents and innovations, a Kaurismäki shot of a pair of shoes seems to be from a different place and time (or perhaps just from Finland).

Le Havre is Kaurismäki’s second film in French (after La vie de bohí¨me, 1992), and despite being shot on location in the Normandy port, with its docks and run-down housing (reminiscent of depictions of Helsinki in earlier films), what we are given is a France of the imagination, and more particularly, of Kaurismäki’s cinematic imagination. From the opening shots of suspicious-looking men in trenchcoats with upturned collars, to accordion music playing in cafés, to the friendly grocer’s and baker’s shops (not a hypermarket in sight), we are reminded of the 30s working-class poetic realism of Le Jour se Leve (1939) and Quai des Brumes (1938), or even the 50s crime films of Jean-Pierre Melville and Jacques Becker. The character’s names more clearly reference French cinema history - thus we have Doctor Becker and even an Arletty (after the star of Le Jour se Leve). Other characters are given famous French names - Flaubert and Manet - while the lead character, and protector of the downtrodden, is interestingly named Marcel Marx.

Of course Kaurismäki films, whether filmed in England, France or Finland, are all really set in what has been called ‘Akiland’. It’s a strange, bleak but beautiful world of overcast skies and odd-looking people, where all the cars were built before 1980; guitars are played with extra twang; and electronic music, computers, mobile phones and supermarkets have not been and never will be invented. In Le Havre, taciturn French replace close-mouthed Finns, and the old cars are Citro&#235ns, but this is still clearly Akiland. He even finds an equivalent to his Finnish rockabilly bands with the appearance of the legendary (in Normandy, at least) Roberto Piazza of 70s French pub-rockers Little Bob Story. André Wilms, as the world-weary shoeshine Marcel Marx, gives a typically Akiland performance, and Kaurismäki regular Kati Outinen (whose face Kaurismäki’s camera can’t help but linger on) plays his wife. The guitar track is provided by The Renegades, whose Finnish hit ‘Matelot’ seems so perfect I can’t help but wonder if the film was made to fit the song.

Although Kaurismäki defends this stylised world as merely his personal preference (he finds modern cars ugly and likes twangy guitars, apparently), this skewed reality is perfect for fables and fairy tales such as this. Such a heart-warming tale in any other hands could so easily become schmaltzy (a Spielberg remake would be awful), but the deadpan delivery and endless idiosyncrasies counterbalance this tendency.

As in all of Kaurismäki’s films, there is a strong anti-authoritarian streak in Le Havre. His film has the feeling of an Ealing comedy - such as Whiskey Galore! (1949) - with plucky underdogs and a downtrodden community standing up to some faceless authority. But it is there in his style too: in those close-ups that linger just a little bit longer than is necessary, in his genuine love of the unconventional, and his ability to find it in the seemingly mundane. It is this that makes Kaurismäki so special, and why this film should be another step on his move from being a Finnish national treasure to a truly global one.

Paul Huckerby

Cross of Love

Cross of Love

Format: Cinema

Dates: 17-22 December 2011

Venues: ICA

Director: Teuvo Tulio

Writer: Nisse Hirn

Based on a short story by: Alexander Pushkin

Original title: Rakkauden risti

Cast: Regina Linnanheimo, Oscar Tengströ, Ville Salminen

Finland 1946

99 mins

An iris closes in on a face and bursts back outwards. A landscape shot is split open. Figures bend as the screen is folded as if it were a page in a book. When Teuvo Tulio cuts a scene, he does so with grand gestures of assertion that verge on the absurd. Brazenly melodramatic, his edits are emblematic of his film language, where shifts in the narrative are signalled and character motivations marked with gaudy metaphors. His contemporaries criticised his exaggeration, reiteration and obsession with prurience; nevertheless, for admirers since, who range from fellow Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki to cult mavericks Guy Maddin and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, satisfaction has been derived from embracing Tulio’s kitsch brushstrokes, which are delivered with conviction.

A montage of tempestuous winds and angry waves: within seconds of the opening of Cross of Love (1945), Tulio makes sure we know discord will ensue. In this adaptation of Pushkin’s ‘The Stationmaster’, Riita, the daughter of a lighthouse owner, dreams of escape until a shipwrecked playboy lures her out of her father’s grasp and, like the waves, takes her away into the city. An all too recognisable set-up, the city is of course infested with putrid greed, corrupted codes and dangerous deeds that evoke von Sternberg (Underworld, 1927) and von Stroheim (Greed, 1924). Abandoned and lost, the innocent Riita turns amoral and amorous as she caves into a life of prostitution, a fallen woman í  la G.W. Pabst’s Lulu. Cross of Love follows the patterns of Finland’s post-war ‘problem films’, which warned their viewers of social horrors (at least Riita escapes syphilis, a common fate for the genre’s characters) and incorporates betrayal and hoodwinking antagonists, themes that were censored in wartime cinema. The moral decay of the city positioned against the idyllic glow of countryside fields was also typical of Tulio’s 1940s scenarios (The Way You Wanted Me, 1944), and only a slight departure from his pre-war ‘haystack dramas’, pastoral scandals rooted and trapped within their settings (The Song of the Scarlet Flower, 1938, and In the Field of Dreams, 1940).

Nevertheless, Cross of Love remains a standout and Tulio’s most impressive achievement. Riita’s plight is portrayed with a riveting sexual frankness that was remarkable for its time, and Tulio never shies away from full-frontal nudity or candid metaphors that barely conceal the lust that sinks Riita into the mud of the city streets. Just as Riita begins to lose control, she meets a young artist who asks her to model for a painting, which gives the film its title; depicting her almost nude and with her arms spread against a cross, Riita’s portrait more than evokes original sin and freezes her fall into a startling image: ‘we’re trying to capture the suffering…’ Deliciously delirious, the actress Regina Linnanheimo, whose unapologetic madness somehow elicits compassion, summons sincerity in Riita’s descent from luminescence to darkness. Occasionally, the music is so overpowering that Tulio abandons dialogue completely, instead allowing close-ups of Linnanheimo’s face to dance with Bach. At times uncomfortably florid, Tulio’s Cross of Love is melodrama at its most wildly excessive.

Julian Ross