Monday, November 16, 2009

Shadows in Paradise (1983)

Not surprisingly, in this first installment of his Proletariat Trilogy, director Aki Kaurismaki has delivered a stark, grimy, yet oddly comedic tale of taciturn working class Finns going about their daily lives.

An aimlessly adrift garbage collector (Matti Pellonpaa) is awakened from his dull and bleak routine by two unrelated but significant events: the sudden death of his co-worker and a chance meeting with a dour grocery clerk (the wonderful Kati Outinen). Under Helsinki’s grim, foreboding skies, Pellonpaa and Outinen bumble their way into an awkward, comical, but at times, deeply touching romance.

Her talent for finding trouble, and his odd, protective attraction to her, land the couple in some tight spots and causes Pellonpaa sleepless nights and, eventually, a few blows to the head with a discarded 2x4. While Scandinavian black comedies aren’t known for their lush musical scores, here Kaurismaki uses a lively, sophisticated jazz piano track contrasted with rockabilly blues as symbols for the class struggle that underlies every aspect of this story. With simple shot design and straightforward editorial choices, Kaurimaki keeps his techniques quiet and that forces the audience to look beyond the subtle - almost disengaged - physical characterizations of his actors, and into the deeper, quirkier reality within.

Those who favor traditional Hollywood fare will likely find this a difficult film to sit through and it’s clearly not designed to please a large audience. But those who appreciate the unique dark humor of the Nordics will find it worthwhile. Kaurismaki even throws in a compelling moral to boot: Life is short. If there’s something you want to do, you better get crackin’.

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