This minor work is also the weakest film in Kaurismaki’s “Finland” trilogy, taking itself more seriously than it ought to be.
Dir. Aki Kaurismäki
2006 | Finland | Drama/Crime| 78 mins | 1.85:1 | Finnish
PG (passed clean)
Cast: Janne Hyytiäinen, Maria Järvenhelmi, Maria Heiskanen
Plot: In Helsinki, a lonely night watchman is caught up in a series of misadventures with a femme fatale and a crooked businessman.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
Source: Finnish Film Foundation
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: General Arthouse
(Reviewed at the Finnish Film Festival ’18 – first published 18 Nov 2018)
I had some trouble getting into this film, the third of Aki Kaurismäki’s “Finland” trilogy, which I felt was the weakest of the trio—the other two being Drifting Clouds (1996) and The Man Without a Past (2002). Operating at a paltry runtime of 78 minutes (though it is a figure considered quite normal in the Finn’s celebrated body of work), Lights in the Dusk is thankfully short which is for the better because the narrative, in the way that it is constructed, can’t seem to stretch any longer without losing all impetus and motivation.
There is inherently good material to be explored in Lights in the Dusk, but it feels like its full potential has been restricted by the way the film is plotted, following a rather predictable mode of storytelling where one could tell what might happen next—I’ve frequently been surprised by the films of Kaurismäki, but this felt at best uneventful.
“And what is your name?”
“Koistinen. Just like before.”
The film centers on Koistinen (Janne Hyytiäinen), a watchman on the night shift who is lonely and has no friends or family. His only ‘acquaintance’ is a woman who sells hotdogs and drinks nearby, though Koistinen can’t quite read the subtle I-like-you signals she is giving him. The story gathers some momentum when Mirja (Maria Järvenhelmi), a beautiful stranger, chats him up one night.
Kaurismäki employs the figure of the sexy if nefarious femme fatale (most prominent in the noir thrillers of Classical Hollywood), a seducer of men to do things that are ultimately detrimental to them, as the spark to the story, and in a way when this is set against his trademark dour aesthetics, it promises something compelling and unorthodox. But that never materialises; instead, the Mirja-Koistinen relationship follows through like a rule book without much suspense or high stakes for any party.
Another problem of Lights in the Dusk is that it takes itself more seriously than it should be, and this is quite unexpected because the Kaurismäki style is all about levity. The result is a film that is much less humorous or light-hearted. Granted, Kaurismäki might have intended to channel the gloomy and fatalistic mood of crime noirs, but whichever the case, it didn’t work out that well and we are left with a film that is hard to consider significant.