Aki Kaurismaki - Director

Nationality: Finnish. Born: Orimattila, Finland, 4 April 1957. Career: Began working as co-scenarist and assistant director with his older brother, Mika Kaurismaki, 1980; co-directed Saimaa Ilmio with Mika, 1981; directed first feature on his own, Crime and Punishment , 1983; directed the music videos Rocky VI , Thru the Wire , and L.A. Woman , 1986; with Mika, runs own production company, Villealfa Film Productions, in Helsinki, operates art movie houses in Helsinki, and organized the Midnight Sun Film Festival. Awards: Best First Film and Script Jussi Award, and diplomas from FILMEX, Nordische Filmtage, and Karlovy Vary Festival, for Crime and Punishment , 1983; Hong Kong Film Festival Special Award, for Calimari Union , 1985; Best Finnish Film Jussi Award, for Shadows in Paradise , 1986; Berlin Film Festival OCIC Award-Honorable Mention and Interfilm Award, Best Director Jussi Award, for The Match Factory Girl , 1989; Berlin Film Festival FIPRESCI Award, for La Vie de Boheme , 1992; Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists European Silver Ribbon, 1993; Sao Paolo International Film Festival Audience Award-Best Feature, for Drifting Clouds , 1996; Berlin Film Festival C.I.C.A.E. Award-Honorable Mention, for Juha , 1999. Address: Villealfa Filmproductions Oy, Vainamoisenkatu 19 A, SF-00100 Helsinki, Finland.

Films as Director:


Saimma Ilmio ( The Saimma Gesture ) (co-d)


Rikos ja Pangaistus ( Crime and Punishment ) (+ co-sc)


Calimari Union (+ sc, ed, ro)


Varjoja Paratiisissa ( Shadows in Paradise ) (+ sc)


Hamlet Liikemaailmassa ( Hamlet Goes Business ) (+ sc, pr)


Ariel (+ sc, pr)


Leningrad Cowboys Go America (+ sc); Tulitikkutehtaan Tytto ( The Match Factory Girl ) (+ sc, pr, ed)


I Hired a Contract Killer (+ sc, pr, ed, uncredited ro)


Those Were the Days (short) (+ sc, pr, ed)


La Vie de Boheme ( The Bohemian Life ) (+ sc, pr)


These Boots (short) (+ sc, pr, ed)


Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses (+ sc, pr, ed)


Total Balalaika Show (doc) (+ pr, ed)


Pida huivsta kiinnim Tatjana ( Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatiana ) (+ pr, co-sc)


Kauas Pilvet Karkaavat ( Drifting Clouds ) (+ sc, pr, ed)


Juha (+ sc, pr)

Other Films:

(as co-scenarist and assistant director to brother Mika Kaurismaki)


Valehtelija ( The Liar ) (+ ro)


Arvottomat ( The Worthless ) (+ ro)


Klanni—tarina sammokoitten ( The Clan—Tale of the Frogs )



(in other capacities)


Huhtikuu on kuukausista julmin (Manttari) (ro)


Viimeiset rotannahat (Manttari) (asst d, ro)


Morena (Manttari) (sound)


Tuhlaajapoika ( The Prodigal Son ) (Aaltonen) (pr); Riparuostuu ( Ripa Hits the Skids ) (Lindblad) (pr)


Iron Horsemen ( Bad Trip ) (Charmant) (pr, asst d, ro)


Vaiennut kyla ( Quiet Village ) (Vaananen) (pr)


Drifting Bottles (Strohl) (ro)


Kovat miehet (Lalli) (pr)


By KAURISMAKI: articles—

Interview in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November 1988.

Interview with I. Ruchti in Positif (Paris), June 1990.

Interview with B. Fornara and L. Gandini in Cineforum (Bergamo), October 1990.

"Wenn das Kino stirbt, werde ich mit ihm sterben," interview with F. Schnelle, in Filmbulletin (Winterthur, Switzerland), no. 2, 1991.

Aki Kaurismaki
Aki Kaurismaki

"Tyomiehen muotokuva," interview with P. von Bagh, in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 5, 1991.

Interview in Filmvilag (Budapest), no. 8, 1991.

On KAURISMAKI: articles—

Reynaud, B., article in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November 1988.

Fisher, W., "Aki Kaurismaki Goes Business," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 58, no. 4, 1989.

Stein, Elliott, "Film: Foreign Affairs," in Village Voice (New York), 31 January 1989.

Fornara, B., article in Cineforum (Bergamo), March 1989.

Tanner, Louise, "Who's in Town," in Films in Review (New York), April 1989.

Hoberman, J., "Finland Goes Movies," in Premiere (New York), June 1989.

Fisher William, career overview in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1989.

Strauss, F., article in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1990.

Dieckmann, K., "Aki Kaurismaki," in Premiere (New York), July 1990.

Taubin, Amy, "The Finnish Line," in Village Voice (New York), 28 August 1990.

Causo, Massimo, article in Cineforum (Bergamo), September 1990.

Cohn, L., "For Aki Kaurismaki, It's Been a Very Good Year," in Variety (New York), 29 October 1990.

Sterritt, David, article in Christian Science Monitor (New York), 6 November 1990.

Stam, H., "Geen gram te veel," in Skoop (Amsterdam), December 1990-January 1991.

Coulombe, M., "Kaurismaki, Kaurismaki, Kaurismaki," in Cine-Bulles (Montreal), no. 3, 1991.

Bagh, P. von, "Oloissamme kumma heppu," in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 5, 1991.

Helen, I., "Ajan lapi?," in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 5, 1991.

Baron, G., "Hamet kepregenyt," in Filmvilag (Budapest), no. 8, 1991.

Blondeel, J., "Aki Kaurismaki," in Andere Sinema (Antwerp), January/February 1991.

Pulliene, Tim, "More Time in the Bar—Aki Kaurismaki," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), February 1991.

Sauvaget, D., "J'ai engage un tueur," in Revue du Cinéma (Cretail Cedex, France), January 1991.

Sauvaget, D., "Aki et Mika: deux cineastes venus du froid," in Revue du Cinéma (Cretail Cedex, France), February 1991.

Saada, N., "Aki Kaurismaki," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1991.

De Santi, G., "L'umorismo de l'anarchico," in Cineforum (Bergamo), June 1991.

Jordahl, A. and Lahger, H., "Aki Kaurismaki," in Chaplin (Stockholm), no. 1, 1992.

Plazewski, J., "Kaurismaki," in Kino (Warsaw), October 1992.

Taubin, Amy, "Finnish Lines," in Village Voice (New York), 10 November 1992.

Sterritt, David, article in Christian Science Monitor (New York), 13 November 1992.

Irani, R., "Between Heaven and Hell," in Cinema in India (Bombay), no. 2, 1993.

* * *

The cinema of Aki Kaurismaki is a cinema of the absurd. He and his brother, director Mika Kaurismaki, have become two of the world's most prolific and uniquely impudent moviemakers. At first, they were far outside the Finnish establishment, in that their parodies and farces lampooned the conventions of their society. Nevertheless, as they became known and respected on the international film scene, they quickly came to be regarded as the leading talents of their country's minuscule motion picture industry. Certainly, the Kaurismaki brothers' success helped educate cineastes to the fact that Scandinavian films do not only come from Sweden and Norway.

Aki and Mika Kaurismaki began collaborating in the early 1980s, but Aki was the one who initially established himself internationally. In 1990 alone, seven of his films were screened in various venues in New York City. His films are linked in that they are straightforward, seriocomic studies infused with a unique sense of the ridiculous. His characters are far removed from the mainstream, in some cases to the point of being isolated and completely alone; occasionally, they are on the road, roaming across landscapes in which they will be eternal outsiders. But their feelings of alienation or despondency rarely become the principal force at work on screen. Rather, Kaurismaki elicits poignancy as he charts his characters' lives, with a special emphasis on the humor that symbolizes the utter absurdity of their situations.

A number of Kaurismaki's heroes are dejected blue-collar loners driven to desperate acts and outrageous behavior by a repressive society. Such is the case in Ariel , a comical, existential road movie about a mineworker (Turo Pajala) who loses his job and sets out on an odyssey across Finland. Ariel offers a textbook example of the manner in which Kaurismaki drolly observes the life of a character whose very existence is outwardly depressing. In a similar vein is The Match Factory Girl , a sharply drawn black comedy about a dreary, oppressed young woman (Kati Outinen). Her job is tiresome, her life is monotonous, and then she becomes involved with a man who is destined to drop her. He expects her to meekly squirm back into her shell, but her response—and her revenge—is way out of character.

Retaliation also is a prominent theme in the first film Kaurismaki directed by himself, Crime and Punishment , a reworking of the Dostoyevsky novel. Crime and Punishment is set in 1980s Helsinki, and the hero, Rahikaainen (Markku Toikka), murders a powerful businessman who was responsible for the hit-and-run death of his fiancee. By far, Crime and Punishment is Kaurismaki's most somber film. On the other end of the emotional scale is I Hired a Contract Killer , in which his comically alienated hero is outlandishly portrayed. Kaurismaki tells the story of a nebbish (Jean-Pierre Leaud) with nothing to live for who haplessly fails to kill himself. He hires a pro to do the job but changes his mind after unexpectedly falling in love, and then must hurriedly attempt to cancel the contract.

Another Kaurismaki concern is the creative lifestyle. He examines this issue in La Vie de Boheme , an affectionate comedy about what it means to single-mindedly devote one's life to art, regardless of the consequences and sacrifices. The film is a slice-of-life about three men, a writer (Andre Wilms), a painter (Matti Pellonpaa), and a composer-musician (Kari Vaanenen). Each is aging, has little or no money, and has not earned commercial or critical recognition. Indeed, there are no undiscovered Hemingways, Picassos, or Mozarts in the group; it would not be unfair to judge each a mediocre talent. But all three remain steadfastly committed to their work and ideals. The women in their lives remain secondary figures; each values his library, piano, and paint above everything else.

One of Kaurismaki's zaniest films is Leningrad Cowboys Go America , which also features characters with warped senses of their talents. Only here, they revel in their awfulness as they proudly hold the mantle as "the worst rock 'n' roll band in the world." Leningrad Cowboys is a loopy farce that lampoons the manner in which the tackiest aspects of American pop culture have impacted on even the farthest reaches of Finland. His "cowboys" are a deadpan, perfectly dreadful band of rock musicians from the Finnish tundra, who embark on a "world tour" which will take them not to Madison Square Garden but across a vast small-town American wasteland.

Kaurismaki had only begun to mine the Leningrad Cowboys' comic possibilities. He followed Leningrad Cowboys Go America with two short films featuring the Cowboys performing hit pop songs: Those Were the Days , a six-minute mini-saga of a lonesome cowpoke rambling through the streets of the Big City in the company of his donkey; and These Boots , a five-minute history of Finland between 1950 and 1969 as seen from the viewpoint of the Cowboys. Next came the feature-length Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses , in which the Cowboys actually have a top-ten hit to their credit. They start out in Mexico, make their way to Coney Island, and end up back in Europe; their manager (Matti Pellonpaa) professes that he is Moses, and pledges to guide the boys home to the Promised Land of Siberia. Finally, in the documentary Total Balalaika Show , Kaurismaki presents the Leningrad Cowboys in concert before fifty thousand fans in Helsinki's Senate Square with none other than Russia's Alexandrov Red Army Chorus and Dance Ensemble—a union described by a Variety critic as "the most incongruous—and inspired—crosscultural pairing since Nureyev danced with Miss Piggy."

In the second half of the 1990s Kaurismaki has been less prolific as a director, yet his films remain sweet and enchanting—and are consistent in tone with his earlier work. Juha , based on an early 20th-century Finnish novel, is the story of a klutzy farmer (Sakari Kuosmanen) and his plain-Jane wife (Kati Outinen), whose union is thrown off-kilter upon the arrival of an aging, womanizing stranger (Andre Wilms). Kaurismaki chose to shoot Juha in black-and-white, and sans dialogue, which adds to the film's unique charm. Drifting Clouds is the deadpan tale of a hapless, down-on-their-luck husband and wife (Kari Vaananen, Kati Outinen) who somehow manage to stumble into a happy ending that is as unlikely as it is pleasing. Kaurismaki's worldview may be summed up in a bit of dialogue from the film: "Life is short and miserable. Be as merry as you can."

—Rob Edelman

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