Lights in the Dusk (2006)

Rating: B

Dir: Aki Kaurismäki
Star: Janne Hyytiäinen, Maria Jarvenhelmi, Maria Heiskanen, Ilkka Koivula

The film starts with the life of lonely and depressed security guard Koistinen (Janne Hyytiäinen), who think he has found love in the shape of Mirja (Maria Jarvenhelmi) – however, the audience soon finds out, she’s just using him as a pawn to help with the robbery of a jewel-store. “I know how this is going to go,” said Chris. “She’s going to fall in love with him, and he’ll end up getting the proceeds of the heist.” I laughed. Chris had never seen a Kaurismäki film before. I had – albeit not for more than fifteen years – and strongly suspected that there would be no such Hollywood contrivance.

Subsequent events proved me right: the passage of time has clearly not given the director any increased degree of optimism. Things pretty much spiral continually downwards for the hero, whose every effort to do the right thing, only sinks him even deeper into the mire. When he goes into a pub to remonstrate with the owner of a dog left tied-up outside, we don’t even need to see the beating that results. “Let’s not go to Finland,” said Chris at the end. “Everyone there just looks so miserable.” I don’t think it’s particularly the country which is responsible for that. Instead, welcome to the world as seen by Aki Kaurismaki, about whom Roger Ebert said, “His characters are dour, speak little, expect the worst, smoke too much, are ill-treated by life, are passive in the face of tragedy.”

That’s largely accurate, though fails dismally to put over the appeal of his work, and this film does have a solitary note of significant redemption, in the very last shot. The tobacco thing also stands out: especially if you’re used to Hollywood, where characters are more likely to suck on a joint than a low-tar, you’ll find yourself counting how many people in this film have cigarettes. [In reality, Finland has an exceptionally-low smoking rate] Yet, despite the grimness, this has a bleak humour that’s engaging, and is almost slapstick in level, since it’s about bad things happening to other people. Having stumbled across this entirely be accident, I hope it’s not a further fifteen years before I see more from Kaurismaki.