Lights in the Dusk (Laitakaupangin Valot)

Cannes Film Festival 2006–Aki Kaurismaki, “Lights in the Dusk” is a rather weak, humorless conclusion to his trilogy about outcasts on the individual level and unemployment on a more social realm. The trilogy, you may recall, began high with “Drifting Clouds” (1996) and continued even higher with the superior “The Man Without a Past” (2002), the most satisfying of the three features.

Still the best-known auteur to come out of Finland, Kaurismaki has been a regular presence in Cannes; the entire trilogy was presented in Cannes in the main competition. Walking a fine line between dj vu repetition and slight boredom, “Lights in the Dusk” suggests above all that it may be time for the gifted Kaurismaki to move onto other saga with different kinds of characters.

Kaurismaki’s films, even the good ones, have never found an audience in the U.S. beyond the small art house circuit, but it’s doubtful that this segment will even get theatrical distribution.

Combing social-realism with darker touches of film noir, “Lights in the Dusk” follows a lonesome night watchman as he throws himself into a fatalistic noirish tailspin that begins with a hangdog glance at an icy blonde in a bar.

All the trademarks of Kaurismakithe dry wit, the deadpan humor, the offbeat-loser characters, the melancholy and absurdist moodare present here, but something more important is mssingresonance and emotional impact. New movie is extremely shortonly 77 minutesbut Kaursimaki seems to have hard time sustaining dramatic interest even for that duration.

As usual, Kaurismaki, who wrote, produced, directed and edited the film, maintains complete control over his work. But for what purpose, you may ask. A creative collaborator might have been useful here.

Minimalism is again the rule of the game, reflected in the limited number of characters and settings. Once again, we witness the downward spiral of a lonely man, for which he is not responsible and not to blame.

Loneliness and alientaion define Koistinen’s existence. Working as as a security guard, he spends most of the time by himself. Living alone in a shabby place, Koistinen seems to endure ridicule and humiliation with admirable fortitude. His only human contact is with Aila (Maria Heiskanen), from whom he buys soft drinks and hot dogs.

An effort to socialize in a bar with a sexy blonde, Mirja (Maria Jarvenhelmi), irritates her beau Lindholm (Ilkka Koivula), an older man who claims to be a businessman. Some energy is injected, when Lindholm schemes to rob the shopping galleria that’s guarded by Koistinen, using Mirja as an allure. Several dates later, Mirja entices Koistinen to his doom, when the crooks rob the place and the blame is put on him. He even allows Mirja to plant evidence on him, leading to a prison sentence–his code of ethics dictates that he cannot betray “his” woman.

In a press interview, Kaurismaki said that his protagonist Koistinen (Janne Hyytiainen) is meant to be like a Finnish version of Chaplin’s Little Tramp. Perhaps. But the Little Tramp has never been such a passive victim.

While “Man Without a Past” bore social signaifcance and strong feelings with its witty, humorous saga, “Lights in the Dusk” seems to be plodding along. To be sure, the movie is impressively controlled by Timo Salminen’s sharp images and Kaurismaki’s deliberate yet measured editing. And the soundtrack is enlivened with songs by Finnish guitarist-songwriter Antero Jakoila and the tango experts Ensemble Mastango and Carlos Gardel. But in the end, the whole experience is frutrating, based on our knowledge that Kaursimaki can doand has donemuch better.

Credits

Sputnik Oy/Pandora Films/Pyramide Production.
Writer-director-producer-editor: Aki Kaurismaki
Cinematography: Timo Salminen
Production design: Markku Patila
Costumes: Outi Harjupatana.

Cast

Koistinen (Janne Hyytiainen)
Mirja (Maria Jarvenhelmi)
Aila (Maria Heiskanen)
Lindholm (Ilkka Koivula).

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