Close Up

1 - 25 October 2017: Close-Up on Aki Kaurismäki


Close-up presents a retrospective on the Finnish miserablist director Aki Kaurismäki in celebration of the launch of Curzon Artificial Eye’s new box-set, which will be released in November.

“The world of Aki Kaurismäki undoubtedly owes much to the deadpan mien of his homeland, […] instantly identifiable by a single frame from almost any of his films. The uncommon union he forges between social realism and visual stylization, and between dry comedy and warm-hearted humanism, is something Kaurismäki’s actors refer to as “Akiland”, and what American critics delicately describe as “an acquired taste”.

Kaurismäki is, in fact, almost single-handedly responsible for rejuvenating the failing Finnish film industry in the 1980s with a series of highly original comedies made with his brother Mika. Over the past twenty years, Kaurismäki has become one of the pre-eminent auteurs of international art cinema, fusing minimalism and melodrama to poignantly depict the hardships of Finland’s blue-collar class. His films, however, are never didactic. Instead, they make a joke out of the extremity of the economic situations they depict, mining the cruelty of the unemployment officer or the bank bureaucrat for black comedy. So, while social criticism is always present, it is couched in humour to soften the blow. The elegant compositions and rich colour design further cloak the bleak reality faced by Kaurismäki’s characters in a dreamy visual beauty (that owes much to Kaurismäki’s long-time cinematographer, Timo Salminen), heightening the sense of otherworldliness that is so unique to his work. Kaurismäki’s influence on other filmmakers is immediately evident in the output of several of his contemporaries – particularly those inclined toward deadpan stylistics, such as Jim Jarmusch, Tsai Ming-Liang and Corneliu Porumboiu – and over the past decade, most films by other directors coming out of Finland fall noticeably under Kaurismäki’s shadow.” – Lana Wilson

Crime and Punishment
Aki Kaurismäki
1983 | 93 min | Colour | DCP

Aki Kaurismäki's first feature follows the descent into crime of Rahikainen, a slaughterhouse worker and former law student, who murders a businessman and then begins a tense game of cat and mouse with the police. Effectively updating Dostoevsky's great novel to 1980s Helsinki, this remarkably assured debut offers a sharp critique of Finnish society. read more

Calamari Union
Aki Kaurismäki
1985 | 80 min | B/W | DCP

A group of men, all bar one called Frank, abandon their downtrodden neighbourhood in search of Eira – a near mythical district across town that promises a better life. Aki Kaurismäki's second feature details their misadventures along the way with deadpan humour and rock-and-roll attitude. read more

Shadows in Paradise
Aki Kaurismäki
1986 | 76 min | Colour | DCP

Aki Kaurismäki regulars Matti Pellonpää and Katja Outinen star in this offbeat yet remarkably touching romantic comedy. Pellonpää plays Nikander, a rubbish collector and would-be entrepreneur who finds his plans for success dashed when his business associate commits suicide. Whilst searching for a job, he meets Ilona, a down-on-her luck cashier in a local supermarket – and, falteringly, a bond begins to develop between them. Part one the Proletariat Trilogy. read more

Hamlet Goes Business
Aki Kaurismäki
1987 | 86 min | B/W | DCP

In this wicked and hilarious satire of the corporate world, Aki Kaurismäki liberally updates Shakespeare's tragedy as a hard-boiled noir B movie. Finnish comic Pirkka-Pekka Petelius plays an irresponsible playboy who finds himself involved in a vicious boardroom power struggle with his uncle, who plans to sell off his company's assets in order to corner the market on Swedish rubber ducks. read more

Aki Kaurismäki
1988 | 74 min | Colour | DCP

Acclaimed as one of Aki Kaurismäki's most accomplished early films, Ariel follows the exploits of the laconic Taisto, a newly-unemployed Lapland miner who sets off in a Cadillac convertible for a fresh start in Helsinki. Joined in his odyssey by meter maid Irmeli and her young son, Taitso's plans take a series of unexpected turns in this dryly comic and satirical melange of road movie and film noir. Part two of the Proletariat Trilogy. read more

Leningrad Cowboys Go America
Aki Kaurismäki
1989 | 78 min | Colour | DCP

This hilarious road movie from Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki follows the misadventures of the worst rock and roll band in the world, the Leningrad Cowboys. When a promoter in their native Siberia, stunned by the band's lack of talent, advises them to try their luck in America they head for New York. Having learned English en-route on the plane and sporting shades, outsize quiffs and outrageously long winkle-pickers, they are passed off on Americans. read more

The Match Factory Girl
Aki Kaurismäki
1990 | 70 min | Colour | DCP

This blackly comic minimalist masterpiece stars Kati Outinen as Iiris, a shy and dowdy young woman stuck in a dead-end job on a match factory production line. She dreams of finding love at the local dancehall, but finds her attempts constantly foiled by her selfish parents and the callous behaviour of her would-be suitors. Finding herself pregnant after a one-night stand and abandoned by the father, Iiris finally decides the time has come to get even and she begins to plot her revenge. Part three of the Proletariat Trilogy. read more

La Vie de Bohème
Aki Kaurismäki
1992 | 100 min | B/W | DCP

Freely adapted from Henri Murger's 1851 novel, this is Aki Kaurismäki's highly individual take on the story of three bohemian artists – a poet, a painter and a composer – set in a timeless Paris. The film shifts beautifully between heartbreaking drama and black humour, and has a fine cast featuring cameos from Jean-Pierre Léaud, Sam Fuller and Louis Malle. read more

Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatiana
Aki Kaurismäki
1994 | 65 min | B/W | DCP

This droll tale of longing and awkward romance follows two misfits – a coffee addict and a vodka-soaked mechanic – as they hit the road in their Soviet-built Volga. Along the way they manage to pick up two women, the Estonian Tatjana and the buxom Russian Klavdia, despite sharing no common language and being completely clueless as to what to do with them next. Set to a thumping rock and roll soundtrack, this beautifully observed and comically understated gem is classic Kaurismäki. read more

Drifting Clouds
Aki Kaurismäki
1996 | 96 min | Colour | DCP

Among Aki Kaurismäki's finest films, Drifting Clouds follows the dwindling fortunes of restaurant hostess Ilona and her tram driver husband Lauri who find themselves unemployed at the same time. Embarking on an unforgiving search for work in a recession-hit Helsinki, the comic masterpiece transforms the pair's plight into a hugely affecting story of hope and survival. Part one of the Loser Trilogy. read more

Aki Kaurismäki
1999 | 78 min | B/W | DCP

Aki Kaurismäki brings his trademark wistfulness, irony and absurdist humour to the conventions of the silent film, utilising beautiful black and white photography, inter-titles and a lush, melodramatic score. Following the fortunes of Juha, an earnest farm worker whose wife is seduced away from him by a city slicker, the film is both a tribute to and a parody of the genre, delightfully peppered with references to the director’s cinematic heroes. read more

The Man Without a Past
Aki Kaurismäki
2002 | 96 min | Colour | DCP

M arrives in Helsinki only to be viciously set upon by thugs and pronounced dead by medics. By some miracle he revives but with no memory of his past or his identity. Rebuilding his life from scratch, M acquires a melancholy dog named Hannibal and falls in love with a Salvation Army soup kitchen volunteer. But the past inevitably catches up with him, forcing him to confront his future. Part two of the Loser Trilogy. read more

Lights in the Dusk
Aki Kaurismäki
2006 | 80 min | Colour | 35mm

Lights in the Dusk is also a tale of a shadowy man, or perhaps rather a story where the world has turned shadowy for a man upholding old-fashioned virtues and humanity. In their place stand betrayal and deceit, together with the absurd state of insolent division of income, sharp as a theorem: property is, concealed or openly, theft. There is no single image that some other director might put his signature on, nor is there no stretch of dialogue someone else could have written. The soundtrack, too, is exceptional, containing in one magnificent touch the voices of the two true tango kings. And in the midst of this, a strange man - a new and dreamy apparition in Aki Kaurismäki's world. Part three of the Loser Trilogy. read more

Le Havre
Aki Kaurismäki
2011 | 93 min | Colour | 35mm

In this warmhearted comic yarn from Aki Kaurismäki, fate throws the young African refugee Idrissa into the path of Marcel Marx, a kindly old bohemian who shines shoes for a living in the French harbor city Le Havre. With inborn optimism and the support of his tight-knit community, Marcel stands up to the officials doggedly pursuing the boy for deportation. A political fairy tale that exists somewhere between the reality of contemporary France and the classic French cinema of the past, Le Havre is a charming, deadpan delight and one of the Finnish director’s finest films. read more

The Other Side of Hope
Aki Kaurismäki
2017 | 98 min | Colour | 35mm

Leave it to Aki Kaurismäki, peerless master of humanist tragicomedy, to make the first great fiction films about the 21st century migrant crisis. Parallel stories dovetail to gently comic and enormously moving effect in Kaurismäki’s politically urgent fable, an object lesson on the value of compassion and hope that remains grounded in a tangible social reality. read more

Curzon Artificial Eye’s Aki Kaurismäki collection contains 17 feature films and 9 shorts, is the largest and most comprehensive UK release of the Finnish master's work and is available for the first time in astounding high definition on Blu-ray.