31 July 2010
For the first fifteen minutes or so of this film, it felt suspiciously like Aki Kaurismäki took the beat sheet from Shadows in Paradise and wrote new scenes with the exact same impact/plot, but when it veers away it's very satisfying. On the one hand it's fun to see the same style of story with ratcheted-up tension and stakes, almost like a more commercial "bleak-comedy" about desperate losers finding love. On the other, though, it makes for an interesting what-if, as things go from bad to worse and from worse to a lot worse, only to (SPOILER?) kind of work out in the end.
I'm really focusing more on tone and style than story, though, and there's a lot to digest here. Ariel feels funnier than Shadows (though my one big laugh was very meta, when Matti Pellonpää shows up sitting in a jail cell, looking almost exactly like he did in the last film... for a minute I expected him to introduce himself as Nikander, and for us to learn that things didn't end so well for him and Ilona), but also a lot darker, opening on a suicide and having so many guns and knives, thieves and robbers, throughout. The story consistently offers sight gags and ironic twists to keep the audience from overdosing on hopelessness, and like I think I said last time, what really saves it is that Kaurismäki isn't afraid to laugh at losers suffering desperation. It's the tenet of every writer worth his salt that the hero is the one who suffers the most -- sometimes it feels like you have an obligation to make as many things as you can go wrong -- but here we are invited to chuckle every time it does. It's as if he's saying "Look how depressing... isn't that funny?"
I wonder if there's any way I can pull this off in my story. I sure hope so, because this is the tone I'm going for here.