Kaurismki x 2: Contract Killer & Drifting Clouds

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Kaurismki x 2: Contract Killer & Drifting Clouds

Postby arsaib4 » Tue Jul 03, 2007 4:30 am


Re: Kaurismki x 2: Contract Killer & Drifting Clouds

Postby arsaib4 » Tue Jul 03, 2007 4:31 am

[Moved from the director's thread / OP 04/20/07]

I HIRED A CONTRACT KILLER (Finland-U.K.-Ger-Swe / 1990)

Tragicomedies. If there's a single word which could best describe the films of Aki Kaurismki, that would perhaps be it. As is often is the case with life itself, the situations they conjure up are at once humorous and sorrowful, drawing uncomfortable yet authentically melancholic reactions. A staple of this Finnish auteurs oeuvre, the wry, deadpan, self-deprecating humor goes a long way to resolutely offset the dour predicaments of his at best working-class protagonists. Not much has changed since Kaurismki began making films in the early 80s with his older brother, Mika. Often working with the same cast and crew -- the likes of Kati Outinen, late Matti Pellonp, Markku Peltola, Elina Salo are a ubiquitous presence in his films, most of whom have been exquisitely and economically shot by Timo Salminen -- he has adapted Shakespeare (Hamlet Goes Business [1987]) and Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment [1983]), made a parody or two about "the worst rock 'n' roll band in the world" (Leningrad Cowboys Go America [1989]), and has even done a silent (Juha [1999]), but, for the most part, the tone, rhythm and texture of his efforts have remained the same, and so have the characters which populate them.

I Hired a Contract Killer, Kaurismkis engaging first English-language feature, stars the great Jean-Pierre Laud as Henri Boulanger, a colorless London-based clerk who becomes an instant casualty of "privatization." For his fifteen years of service, he receives a gold watch, one which doesnt work. Henri concludes that life isnt worth living anymore, and so he decides to commit suicide. After various failed attempts, he visits the unsavory part of town to hire a contract killer (the negotiations at the dilapidated pub are the film's high point). But while waiting for the contract to be carried out, he comes across a noirish, platinum-haired woman at a local bar, and falls in love. Henris problem compounds once he discovers that he can no longer cancel his order. (Tragicomic, isn't it?)

If the filmmaker accentuates the absurdity of the situation with his meticulously composed and pared down portrait-like shots, he also grounds it by the compassion he displays or the characters, including that of the distressed killer. Kaurismkis premises might seem frivolous at times but theyre set in a real world with real dilemmas and consequences, and the violent acts prove so in this case. Lauds hangdog mannerisms are perfectly employed by Kaurismki (the French actor went on to play a smaller role in his 1992 effort, La Vie de bohme), and the same could be said for a wonderful performance by the late, great Joe Strummer.


*An exchange from 04/25/07

A : "This was my first film By Aki at the beginning of my exploration of cinema, and I instantly fell in love with it. Leaud is really great in his dead-pan portrayal of a suicidal dreamer. As Truffaut put it, Leaud is very good in comical situation which are slightly askew. I laughed a lot during the first scenes with the failed suicides. Though they have been copied a lot (I also think Kaurismki borrowed this from some earlier films) I haven't yet seen them carried out in such a dark-humored way.

And as you rightly observe, the compassion the director feels for all of his characters adds a further layer of richness to the film. You enjoy the scenes with the killer for numerous reasons, and it becomes a film where you are somehow "rooting" for all three persons.

I had it once on VHS (German dub) but I'd like to revisit it sometime soon.

Looking forward to Kaurismaki's "Drifting Clouds" (1996) which will be screened at a local theater next month here in Nuremberg. :D"

arsaib4 : "Thanks for the comments, A.

The preciseness of Kaurismki's mise-en-scne never ceases of amaze me. At times, his scripts can be lackadaisical, and the characters aren't fully fleshed out, but formally speaking I think he's as accomplished as anyone working today. I'm sure you'll at least like Drifting Clouds. Kati Outinen is wonderful in it. I'll be watching his latest effort, Lights in the Dusk, very soon."

Re: Kaurismki x 2: Contract Killer & Drifting Clouds

Postby arsaib4 » Tue Jul 03, 2007 5:12 am

DRIFTING CLOUDS (Finland / 1996)

While Aki Kaurismki had broached the subject of unemployment before in his work, Drifting Clouds (Kauas pilvet karkaavat), the first installment of the masters "Finland" trilogy, specifically and resolutely dealt with its residual effects. This minimalist gem stars the great (and perpetually dour) Kati Outinen as Ilona, a committed matre d' at a moderately upscale Helsinki restaurant who, along with the rest of the staff (mostly played by Kaurismki veterans whom Keaton would've loved to have had), is let go due to a financial takeover. That occurs a short while after Ilonas husband, Lauri (an endearingly robotic Kari Vnnen), also loses his job as a tram driver (in a typical Kaurismki touch, the callous management determines the fate of the workers by card numbers). The middle-aged and middle-class couple do everything they can to get back on track but circumstances and a lousy economy keep standing in their way.

Less eager to please than The Man Without a Past (2002) -- the second part of the trilogy and, not surprisingly, one of Kaurismkis most widely seen and admired efforts -- Drifting Clouds features the filmmakers trademark refined, highly composed style which eventually becomes the means to relate the predicaments his protagonists often find themselves in. The richness of the color palette makes more of an impression once the film adopts a few classic Hollywood turns (all by design). Even by Kaurismki standards, the humor is relatively subdued (the one sequence which stands out however has Lauri storming out of a movie theater and demanding a refund from the cashier -- who turns out to be his sister -- even though he hadnt paid for the ticket in the first place!). Drifting Clouds is dedicated to the memory of Matti Pellonp, a ubiquitous presence in the filmmakers initial efforts.


*The film premiered at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival (in-competition); it won a Special Mention from the Ecumenical Jury.

*Both Vnnen and Pellonp were part of Jim Jarmuschs 1991 effort, Night on Earth (coming soon from Criterion). Needless to say, the Finnish segment of the film was an homage to Kaurismki, who returns the favor by displaying the poster of that film in the aforementioned movie theater sequence.

*The Third installment of the "Finland" trilogy, Lights in the Dusk (2006), is currently in limited release in the U.S. (Trevor's review.)

*DVD info to follow

Re: Kaurismki x 2: Contract Killer & Drifting Clouds

Postby arsaib4 » Sat Jul 28, 2007 5:27 am

I HIRED A SILENT KILLER is available as part of Swedish label Sandrew Metronome's 4-DVD box set titled Aki Kaurismki Collection Volume 2, which also includes La Vie de bohme, Hamlet Goes Business and Juha.

DRIFTING CLOUDS is included in the 5-disc Vol. 1, along with The Match Factory Girl, Ariel, The Man Without a Past and Shadows in Paradise.

Both titles are also available separately.

*Artificial-Eye (U.K.) will release three sets of Kaurismki films stating in September.

Re: Kaurismki x 2: Contract Killer & Drifting Clouds

Postby trevor826 » Sat Jul 28, 2007 11:06 am

I've heard the A.E. sets are due for release but can't find any definite info as to what will be in each.

Any ideas?

Cheers Trev.

Re: Kaurismki x 2: Contract Killer & Drifting Clouds

Postby arsaib4 » Sun Jul 29, 2007 3:03 am

The first set is said to contain The Match Factory Girl, Ariel and Shadows in Paradise. It's a trilogy of sorts as all of the films concern the struggles of the proletariat (though most of his efforts qualify in this regard). And all three were released within five years of one another.

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