My characters, hopeless optimists
by Camillo De Marco
24/11/2011 - Checked shirt, blue jumper, a bottle of pinot grigio in front of him, Aki Kaurismäki greets us in the prestigious palazzo Colonna, where he is staying, only steps away from via Condotti in Rome. His latest film, Le Havre [trailer, film focus], will open tomorrow at the Turin Film Festival, where the director will receive a lifetime award “not for the films he has already made but for those he is yet to shoot”, said the festival’s director Gianni Amelio. We ask him about the future. “I’ve said everything I wanted to say, I feel like I’m starting to repeat myself”, he says with his usual sarcasm. “But another film, why not? It’s an activity which doesn’t pollute, making film is environmentally friendly after all”. With every question the Finnish film-maker laps up the pleasure of an answer that is not banal or automatic.
Le Havre describes a world of marginalised individuals who express great mutual solidarity and it even has a positive ending. “I actually wanted everyone to feel sad at the end of the film”, he replies. “But I only tried to tell a story, it is up to the public to decide whether it is optimistic. When no hope is left there is no reason to be pessimistic”. He changes his mind: “Well, if you’re experienced you’re able to manipulate the audience, you know when to make them cry or laugh”.
In any case, we suggest, the film deals with the big issue of illegal immigration, something that films in recent years have been doing with increasing frequency. “I wanted to prove that this is society and that these people are not rare. But I don’t believe in a cinema that needs to teach lessons. People don’t go to the cinema to learn. At least this is my personal experience, I go to the cinema to be moved or to have fun. That is what films were invented for, we could call them a sort of opium. And I’m not the ideal director to tell stories of a realist matrix. I just tried to make a film Jean-Pierre Melville style”.
In fact Le Havre is a kind of noir, with a detective and a fugitive (the illegal African immigrant boy), which pays tribute to French cinema of the past. But why assign such a wicked role to an icon like Jean-Pierre Léaud? “In Truffaut’s The 400 Blows he played a boy on the run, in my film he is a whistleblower who exposes a little illegal immigrant. It goes to show what life and society can do to us, torture us and deprive us of moral values. It’s a pessimistic note. In the last scene of The 400 blows Leaud looks towards the camera, it’s a desperate look as if he was aware of his fate of 50 years later and refused that thought”.
Kaurismäki is certainly more loquacious than the characters in his films. “I should enter the Guinness Book of Records for my dialogues. I started as an actor and screenwriter thirty years ago, I wrote lengthy dialogues but not much stayed in the films. I learnt to write 2-minute dialogues. Plus I’m too lazy, I prefer to substitute dialogue for music. I tell my actors not to express their inner feelings and not to wave their arms about. And in my films nobody runs or laughs. By my standards Le Havre contains a lot of dialogues. I still like watching films with lots of dialogues, I would also like to do that but now I have a kind of block…”
He confesses that he lives in Portugal because he doesn’t have a passport and they wouldn’t let him into the US, but he has a very specific idea of Hollywood cinema: “I only like that up until 1962. Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye is the last good film. Considering the enormous financial means they have, I don’t see any masterpieces in recent years”.