Friday, February 13, 2009

Two Films by Aki Kaurismaki

The Match Factory Girl (Aki Kaurismaki, 1990) [8]/Lights in the Dusk (Aki Kaurismaki, 2007) [6]

Kaurismaki's films deal with downtrodden people, lonely, desperate, and yet all too sympathetic. These characters exist as solitary figures against a expansive, industrial metropolis. Kaurismaki handles his characters in a deadpan, minimalist style that lacks much of anything: emotion, dialogue, hope. Yet through his style comes character studies that are finely attuned with the members of society that no one would really care to make a film about.

The Match Factory Girl may be the best example of all of the attributes listed above. There isn't a line of dialogue spoken until twenty minutes in and not much there after either. Kati Outinen plays Iris, a factory worker constantly browbeaten by her parents and yearning for some kind of human contact. She finds it in a one night stand only to become pregnant and being rejected by the callous man. All this creates a series of crushing events where Iris has no choice but to seek revenge on all those who've made her life miserable. Kaurismaki makes all the points he needs to without exerting much of any emotion or speaking. By simply moving through scene after scene, a portrait of how miserable Iris's life is becomes all too clear. The opening sequence of the match factory at work lays the setting for the monotonous workings of the film. The film never tells, it shows, and that's its greatest strength. Even with its minimalist style, Kaurismaki is still able to create a film that understands its central character.

Watching Lights In the Dusk, I get the feeling that I'm almost watching the same film again. Koistinen is a desperately lonely security guard, beaten down by his job and life. He meets what he thinks is a affections woman, who is really only using Koistinen to rob the shopping plaza where he works. It sets up a series of events that end up having Koistinen take the fall for the crime. After being released prison, Koistinen's life is just another series of unfortunate events. It all feels a little too close to the film above, all the way down to Koistinen deciding to exact revenge on all those who made his life miserable. The only real difference is that the film throws in another woman, Aila, who has feelings for Koistinen, which he chooses to ignore. Because of Kaurismaki's style, the repetitious nature of Lights In the Dusk compared to The Match Factory Girl makes the film seems stuck in its tracks. Most of it boils down to the characters of each. Iris's situation involved the acts of others towards her. It seems here that Koistinen's troubles are a result of his actions. It makes it harder to be a sympathetic character when you choose the road you take.

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