Ariel (1988)

“In a way I did kill him, but the truth is, I didn’t. The result was the same: the man died, and I was sent here. All right, let’s go, then. I am 37 now and eight years more makes me about 43. Then I won’t last three hours outside without killing somebody.”

‘Ariel’, directed by Aki Kaurismäki in 1988, is a Finnish drama that focuses on Taisto Kasurinen, a coal miner played by Turo Pajala, who loses his job, moves to Helsinki, and ends up being drawn into crime. It’s a short, tight film, the performances understated and the cinematography sparse and drained on colour. Kaurismäki presents the lives of his characters without sentiment and with a black comedy, half-Mike Leigh, half-Coen brothers. The film is threaded with cinematic references, not least Kaurismäki’s big inspiration Robert Bresson. He shares Bresson’s preoccupation with detail and physical movement. Like Bresson his narrative is economical and basic, but he balances this with the complexity of his focus on the details of the characters actions, on their hands and on their constant smoking. Indeed, halfway through the film, Kaurismäki’s story transforms into a homage to Bresson’s ‘A Man Escaped’, complete with an audacious and improvised prison escape. Where Kaurismäki expands on Bresson is in the black humour and understated wit with which he injects his film. The characters are eccentrics, each cursed with a set of quirks, whilst the city where Kaurismäki sets many of his films is shown to be decaying and run-down, a place to escape from. As such, the final shot of the movie provides a sense of catharsis, not just because the characters escape from Helsinki, but also because they escape from a Kaurismäki film.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s short and punchy whilst being witty. It’s apparently the second in an unofficial thematic trilogy, so I’d be keen to hunt out the others. Oddly, this is exactly what I’d expect of a Finnish movie: dry, chilly, economical and politically focused. Watch in a double bill with Bresson’s ‘A Man Escaped’ to see where the central scenes come from.

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