Mr. Kaurismaki in Paris; "Juha" at the Cinematheque


In the past few days I have seen five films directed by Aki Kaurismaki, as well as "The Liar", Mika Kaurismaki's film school project for which Aki wrote the script. Kaurismaki is one of the "guests of honour" at the Paris Cinema festival, and a complete retrospective of all his films are passing the screens of the Reflet Medicis. As well as this, Kaurismaki and a few actors from his films are in town, and have made appearances before a few of the projections. So I will have a chance to catch up on all the films I missed at the Champo retrospective around 18 months ago.

On Thursday night at the Cinematheque there was a screening of "Juha", Kaurismaki's silent movie, and it was accompanied live by the Finnish orchestra who wrote the film's original music. Kaurismaki, Kati Outinen and Andre Wilms were also there, but unfortunately (and this was to be a recurring feature of other projections) no-one really got very much of an opportunity to say anything.

For Kaurismaki to make a silent film was not such a radical departure of course given that (for certain of his films at least) nobody says very much (apparently for the "Match factory girl" all the dialogues were written on little bits of paper at the last possible minute). But a silent film for sure demands a different style of acting than a film graced with live dialogues; as Kaurismaki commented, once the card appears indicating a person's emotional state, after that card disappears from the screen the actor has to display that emotion even more forcefully than before.

"Juha" tells the story of a rural couple who live a peaceful simple existence in the depths of the countryside. Their rural idyll is disrupted by the arrival of stranger (Andre Wilms) in a fast red car, who persuades Juha's wife, Marja (played by Kati Outinen) to run away with him to the city. Needless to say, things end badly for everyone. Tragedy and burlesque. A revolver and an axe.

The live music was not really what I expected; it was kind of rock / jazz fusion, which in the end worked well enough (but then of course live music for a silent movie doesn't have to be some guy with a piano of course). Mr. Kaurismaki made a few laconic comments before the projection, but wouldn't be drawn any more than that.

It's interesting to see so many of Kaurismaki's films one after the other; the final scene of Juha is almost the same as the opening scene of "Shadows in Paradise", filmed around ten years earlier -- the Helsinki municipal rubbish dump. One notices of course that the same group of actors appears in all the films, more or less. That Kaurismaki cameos quite often (twice as a hotel clerk, once as the driver of a hearse in the delirious "Calamari Union"). Last night, watching his "blockbuster" hit, "The man without a past" I noticed in one of the scenes a portrait of Matti Pellonpaa hanging on the wall - Pellonpaa was one of Finland's greatest actors, and starred in many of Kaurismaki's films; he died suddenly in 1995.

Tonight I will go to see the two 'Leningrad Cowboys" movies, concerning the world's worst rock band. You know I could have found out about Kaurismaki about ten years earlier if I had been paying more attention, or had been a little more open; in Manchester in 1991 I remember seeing posters for the "Leningrad Cowboys go America" at the Cornerhouse cinema. I was intrigued. But I was perhaps not too open to new experiences back then; I didn't go to see the film, instead preferring to spend my money to see Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca". Which I had already seen on television in any case. Ah, youth.