With Aki Kaurismäki’s movies, as with Yasujirô Ozu’s, familiarity breeds contentment. Taken cumulatively, they extol and embody the pleasures of repetition – the comforts of familiarity – without ever seeming repetitious or familiar themselves, even though Kaurismäki basically tells the same stories over and over again.
Returning to the Finn’s work after 20 years of not seeing it (he was poorly distributed here in the US for much of that time), my first impression was of an old, reliable and rewarding vibe-cum-sensibility still chugging along productively, the work perhaps wiser and kinder now, always evolving in tiny ways here and there, but always offering the same combination of deadpan fatalism (1988′s Ariel has the funniest suicide in the history of cinema) amid a rigorously controlled mise-en-scène redolent of Poverty Row dressed by Douglas Sirk. It’s nice to know he’s always been there, and nicer to learn that his work has hardly changed, except to get richer and denser even as it gets leaner and sparer.
Take Le Havre, his latest. All my old friends from 20 years ago are still here, including La Vie De Bohème’s André Wilms, reprising the same role, and Katie Outinen, The Match Factory Girl, a little jowlier now but still magnificently beaky and chinless, as his ailing wife. Around them are the usual cast of minor characters as rumpled and battered as the human ruins in Béla Tarr’s work, or early, bare-bones Fassbinder movies, declaiming their hangdog, deadpan, boilerplate dialogue with the rote intonation of Bresson’s “models”. But in a pinch they’re as capable of rock-solid working-class social solidarity as any Jean Renoir ensemble from the 1930s.
This time, an illegal immigrant teenager, who tells Wilms he is trying to get to England, offers the pathway to redemption. This is always plainly marked in Kaurismäki’s universe, which, despite seeming godless and cruel, is capable of out-of-left-field quasi-religious miracles as startling as anything in Carl Dreyer’s Ordet. And amid the poverty and joyless settings, there is room for secular blessings too, as in the bar-room reunion of two separated lovers: they meet, a spotlight brightens artificially above their heads, the Sirkian orchestration surges, and we chuckle even as the tears prickle in our eyes.
Little moments and small feelings like these were what Ozu sought in his movies, which strove to provoke, over and over again, “a little sadness”, usually about 15 minutes before each movie’s ending, followed by a warm feeling of acceptance and consolation. Kaurismäki once said he’s searched all his life for “the perfect red kettle”, Ozu’s signature prop, and in his movies he is doing something similar. He is not Ozu’s copycat, he is his apprentice, and he has absorbed his mentor’s lessons with discernment and taste. But he will seek his own mastery, on his own terms.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Seit 1996 bin ich freier Mitarbeiter der Salzgitter-Zeitung, als Experte für das Geschehen im hiesigen Kreisfußball. Daneben sind meine Kolumnen seit 2005 fester Bestandteil im Lokalteil der Salzgitter-Zeitung. Zusammen mit Frau und Tochter sowie zwei gefräßigen wie faulen Stubentigern versuche ich das zu meistern, was das Leben, das Universum und der ganze Rest an Absurditäten für uns bereithalten.