[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 ) and Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment ), made a parody or two about "the worst rock 'n' roll band in the world" (Leningrad Cowboys Go America ), and has even done a silent (Juha ), 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."