Selected for the third time in official competition at Cannes, where he picked up two awards in 2002 for his The Man Without a Past, Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki somewhat disappointed his fans yesterday evening with his new film, Lights in the Dusk [+see also:
film profile]. Not because the eccentric Finn has lost his inimitable style – offbeat humour set against social dram – but rather because of the depth and cruelty with which he treats his favourite subjects.
Set in a gloomy Helsinki that is both modern and old-fashioned, the film recounts the misadventures of Kostinen (Janne Hyytiäinen), a lone night watchman, bullied by his colleagues, rejected by women, but hopeful that his life will improve.
A young woman (Maria Järvenhelmi) acts as bait to fool him into robbing a jewellers and he ends up losing his job and his pride and is sentenced to two years in prison. Upon his release, a miserable existence awaits him (a room in a hostel, a job as a dishwasher) and his attempt to seek revenge does not go as planned. Only his love affair with a waitress whom he always despised gives the film its “happy ending”.
Perfectly filmed, with set pieces that play with very strong colour contrasts, Lights in the Dusk makes direct references to American cinema of the 1950s and Kaurismäki even cites Joseph Mankiewicz’s All About Eve as a reference for his own femme fatale.
The terseness and cold humour of the dialogue ("How was prison?" "We couldn’t get out"), the physical and moral repulsiveness of men, all washed down with various kinds of alcohol, prove that the filmmaker is at great ease in his environment. Where he fails, however – despite the recurrent tangos – is in arousing compassion for his Chaplinesque victim.
Produced by Finnish outfit Sputnik Film, the €1.6m film was co-produced by Germany (Pandora), France (Pyramide) and Arte France Cinéma. Lights in the Dusk also received funding from the Finnish Film Foundation.
(Translated from French)
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