Monday, 7 December 2015
Finnish Cult Movies V: Crime and Punishment
Crime and Punishment was the title of the first film by Aki Kaurismäki, Finland´s most acclaimed film director. It has also been said that the rest of his filmography follow the same theme. Now, in this article series, I haven´t featured too many of Aki´s films, since I prefer to showcase some stranger films that may or may not be familiar to international audiences. The theme is also very constant. There haven´t ever been many genre movies made in this country, but at least there have been several Crime films. And as it happens the handful of best ones also manage to take a look at the subject from a surprising point of view.
Jäähyväiset presidentille (1987)
Dir. Matti Kassila
"Farewell to the President" is a The Jackal-esque thriller, which concerns a far-leftist would-be assassin, and the policemen trying to capture him before he manages to murder president Urho Kekkonen. As he was the longest-running president in Finnish history in a pretty sensitive historical period, Kekkonen was not often featured in fictional films. Here, he is portrayed as a hedonistic old man, caring more of going to the sauna than his duties as the nation´s figurehead. No wonder the film was released only after he had already passed away.
Matti Kassila, known also for the beloved Komisario Palmu series, creates his crime films with his tongue firmly in cheek, as in here. There are cameos from popular comedians such as Mikko Kivinen and Aake Kalliala. These are intercut with some surprisingly brutal sniper murders.
Nevertheless, it is an action-packed film with a terrific main villain, played by Hannu Lauri. He shaves his head, Taxi Driver-like, and builds his body with Jean-Claude Van Damme´s picture hanging on the wall. While the audience knows he´s the culprit, the police detective in charge has no vlue. The opponents are directed at each other a few times, which give Lauri some great sneering lines at the representative of the system he so loathes.
The end chase in particular is a hoot, with cheap soviet-made cars chasing each other in countryside dirt-roads. While Kassila has admitted to attempting to create a more American-style crime thriller, this certainly has its roots firmly planted in Finland.
Yön Saalistajat (1984)
Dir. Visa Mäkinen
Even further down the surreal line of staging Hollywood-style thrills and chills to our peaceful country, director Visa Mäkinen decided to try the same in his small home town of Pori. His films have a sort of infamy in Finland, but in fact with his small budgets and innovative filming style he managed to often be way more entertaining than the more serious finnish films of the same period.
Yön Saalistajat ("The Predators of the Night") is one of his most popular films. It concerns a policeman going undercover in a major crime league, operating in Pori. The film´s idea of criminal activity is straight out of Donald Duck comic books, while the delicious dialogue is some prime Chandleresque ham.
The title is misleading as most of the film is set on the most sunny days of the summer. The movie also has a villain for the ages, Matti Mäntylä´s Reuna ("The Edge"). This biker-like thug worships Satan, does drugs, has Psycho-like mommy issues, and of course treats every other character in the movie like dirt, save for his boss, the Boss.
Like Mäkinen´s films tend to be, it looks like an amateur film shot in each other´s homes. But one can´t deny it´s told smoothly, always running from one delightful scene to another.
★ or ★★★★★
Räpsy ja Dolly eli Pariisi odottaa (1989)
Dir. Matti Ijäs
Räpsy & Dolly is a film about a criminal (Matti Pellonpää) released from jail. His life afterwards is difficult and he is being tempted back into crime all the time. A blossoming relationship with a screwloose bar maid (Raija Paalanen) might help him keep in line, or his new job at a porno store under a crooked boss might push him over the edge.
Räpsy & Dolly represents the sort of Finnish film making that doesn´t shy away from looking at life as it actually looks. The cast doesn´t consist on sheer doll-faced people, but actors who look the sort that have seen life, and deperately try to avoid it from now on. Dolly in particular tries to keep up appearances and fool herself that the seediness around her is actually bohemian Parisian artstocracy.
Aki Kaurismäki´s most trusted actor Pellonpää is (of course) magnificent as the lead. He´s a bit weaselly, but still puppy-like enough that we as the audience keep rooting for him. We are not sure on how rooted into reality his relationship with Dolly is, until the film´s final moments. Director Ijäs is very gifted with comedy, and the film´s surprising zingers catch the viewers off-guard time and time again.
Dir. Seppo Huunonen
Finnish film industry didn´t really have a noveau vague period, but nevertheless we had some directors willing to test out filmmaking methods and break formulas. Karvat ("Hairs") was one, and as such, it was a lost film for decades until it resurfaced on dvd in 2011. The film is loosely based on the same novel as Jean-Luc Godard´s Pierrot le Fou.
The story´s about a criminal (Mikko Majanlahti, looking remarkably like The Smurfs villain Gargamel) that is involved in a successful heist. With all his money, he leaves his wife and runs away with a younger girlfriend (Arja Virtanen). The relationship has ups and downs, madness and uncertainty. In the end, the pair is forced to return to dangerous Finland where blood-thirsty assassins are waiting for them.
Huunonen has some very innovative ideas and choices, particularly concerning scenes of love and murder, two things that are often done in films in exactly the same way. A jazzy soundtrack also emphasizes his emphasis on testing different things out. But his comic sensibility keeps the film a bit too light and farcical and many of his experiments don´t serve the film as a whole. It would have the ingredients to be a truly gripping work, but sadly it doesn´t quite go as far as one could wish. Nevertheless, it is one of the most interesting films of it´s time.
Huunonen only made one another film, a more conventional Piilopirtti, which attempts to return to the comedic crowd-pleasing style of his debut, Lampaansyöjät.
Nyrölä 3 (2004)
Kissa ja varjo (1993)
Dir. Tapio Piirainen
Tapio Piirainen is best known for his succesful TV series Raid, as well as the feature film of the same name that continued the story. Piirainen has also done a few crime movie for television that share his laconic humor, some themes of crime and corruption, and often also the same actors (Kai Lehtinen and Oiva Lohtander seem to reappear).
Nyrölä 3 seems to be closer to Raid´s world. In it, a new police officer (Maija Junno) of the small town of Nyrölä tries to solve the murder of a middle eastern pizza cook. The film tries to deal with the inherent racism of the Finnish countryside, but also features Lehtinen in blackface as the friendly "Saddam". This makes the film feel quite uneasy and counter-intuitive, even if it has some snazzy dialogue and a fun role for Lohtander. At times, the movie also gets too farcical, as in the extended roles of Kummeli comedians Heikki Silvennoinen and Timo Kahilainen.
Kissa ja varjo is more based on Piirainen wanting to try out different styles. The movie is a spy chase, with also elements from spaghetti westerns, film noir and even war movies. Kissa and Varjo are private investigators who keep on screwing each other over, even though they both should aim for the same goal. As a whole, it feels very light and would require some dramatic weight. Nevertheless, it´s an entertaining enough TV movie for one-time viewing.
Nyrölä 3: ★★ 1/2
Kissa ja varjo: ★★★
Dir. Maunu Kurkvaara
Kujanjuoksu showcases a crime that must be the most common in this country; an act of fury done in unclear conditions, alcohol being involved, and that causes self-loathing and suicide attempts in heaps. Kurkvaara is one of the greatest directors this country has seen. Kujanjuoksu isn´t quite one of his best, but it is an innovative and progressive cinematic piece that´s well worth a look.
Ossi Virtanen (Aarre Karén), a drunkard, is captured and blamed for a murder of a teenaged girl, for which we know another man is guilty. Ossi himself can´t remember anything. Flashbacks are shown in black-and-white, and they slowly start to complete Ossi´s evening, and shed light into the crime. But this may happen too slowly and Ossi is constantly in danger of being thrown to jail for the rest of his life. Karén with his wrinkly brow and large eyes can´t help but to awake our symphaties.
The film is a bleak look into the justice system, where a seemingly guilty person needs to prove his innocence instead of another way around. Death and violence are random things that may happen to anyone, particularly to women. At the same time, alcohol may arise unusual friendships for a period of time.
The film is based on a true crime that happened in Helsinki in the early 1960s.
Deadline (Tie naisen sydämeen, 1996)
Dir. Pekka Parikka
Finally, a cult movie in the making. Tie naisen sydämeen ("The way to a woman´s heart") is a bit of a tricky film to recommend. The title and the very unappealing dvd cover make this seem to be a very different film than it really is. In fact the film is a delicious Film Noir -parody in the same vein as Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.
Journalist Pentti Anttila (Timo Torikka) starts the film at a mental asylum. On his way out of there, he finds out one of the inmates is a woman being held there against her will. Outside, Anttila has to meet a Deadline, but decides instead to investigate the woman´s plea, which brings him to the totally corrupt countryside town of Järvensuu.
Director Pekka Parikka was known for his big national epics, such as Talvisota and Pohjanmaa. Deadline is an altogether different sort of film, and it turned to also be his last. As a final work, it reminds a bit of Charles Bukowski´s last book, Pulp, which is also a parody of a detective story with some surreal elements, over-the-top inner monologues and colorful characters.
The film´s script is intentionally filled with groan-worthy puns and figures of speech. Anttila seems to narrate his own story as if he was a hard-luck hero when in fact he is a nuisance to anyone he meets. Even his parents would rather they would have nothing to do with him, and his father is on his dying bed. Uncovering the truth of Järvensuu is not his main goal, he is only out to get a girl, as the title suggests.
The town of Järvensuu itself is so corrupt, it is totally hilarious. The locals held outsiders in total contempt, best put into flesh the rude barmaid (Ulla Tapaninen) that serves customers beer from a dirty dishrag. The mayor spends his days banging his secretary, and they both are so accustomed to this arrangement they don´t even quit their work to do so. And the town is secretly ran by a Mengele-like mad doctor (Vesa Vierikko).
It´s a film pulsating with ideas. It may require the viewer to put on a certain mindset, but when the jokes start rolling, they don´t really stop. It´s rewatchable, quotable and silly, all the things that tend to make a good cult film. Hopefully, it will gain some more notice.