Aki Kaurismäki is probably the best-known Finnish film director outside Finland (apart from Renny Harlin, of course), and certainly my favourite. His films are very Finnish - not much is said, and his characters are often miserable. But they are genuine in their emotions. They mean what they say. I think he depicts a very stereotypical view of Finns, though in a very symphatetic way. I think the bleak vision of Finland that Aki Kaurismäki shows on the screen has put off many Finns from enjoying his movies, but I think they are missing the point. Kaurismäki has an excellent sense of humour, and an ability to make you laugh at yourself - if you're Finnish that is. It might be hard for a foreigner to understand his movies, and it is hard to describe Kaurismäki's films, especially to a foreigner. You need to see one yourself. You will gain a glimpse into the Finnish psyche.
Aki Kaurismäki was born on April 4 1957 in Orimattila, Finland. He had various jobs - postman, dishwasher, film critic - before starring in and writing for his brother Mika Kaurismäki's film Valehtelija, literally 'Liar' in English. Thereafter he founded his own production company, named Villealfa Filmproductions as a tribute to Jean-Luc Godard's film Alphaville. He has been a prolific director ever since.
Kaurismäki's style of directing is unique. He does not allow the actors to rehearse scenes, and generally only does one or two takes of a shot. This clearly shows in the films - you could never mistake a Kaurismäki film for the work of another director. Some find the acting in his films too deadpan. I find it very funny - I laughed straight through Kauas pilvet karkaavat and the Man without a past. For some of his films Kaurismäki uses a script, for others he does not. If there is a screenplay it is followed to the letter.
Kaurismäki's films are often seemingly depressing and dark. They deal with problems confronting ordinary people, who are unable to control their lives. Perhaps the best example of his work is the Suomi trilogia (Finland trilogy), which began with Kauas pilvet karkaavat, which deals with unemployment in Finland. The second film in the trilogy, Mies vailla menneisyyttä or the Man Without a Past, is about an ordinary labourer who becomes homeless since he is beaten up and loses his memory. Both of the main characters were hard-working people, whose problems were caused by forces beyond their control. However, there is a theme of hope in both movies. In Kauas pilvet karkaavat, the main character starts up his own restaurant, called Työ ('Work'). It is succesful. In the Man Without a Past, the man is able to find work, since he is helped by a friendly member of the Salvation Army. In the end, the two find happiness as they fall in love.
The Man Without a Past is definitely Kaurismäki's most famous film. It won the Grand Prix at the Cannes film festival in 2002. Before this he had a following among European film enthusiasts, but nowadays he is much more of a celebrity. I think the fact that his work was acknowledged by awarding him such a prestigious prize has caused Finns to be proud of him, washing away the slight embarrassment that many might have felt about how he depicted Finland. Finns are usually very conscious of what foreigners think of them, but I hope that Kaurismäki's success will help us not to worry so much, and appreciate his incisive analysis of the ordinary Finnish person.
Saimaa-ilmiö, The Saimaa Gesture
, 1981 (documentary)
Rikos ja rangaistus, Crime and Punishment
, 1986 (short)
Varjoja paratiisissa, Shadows in Paradise
Hamlet liikemaailmassa, Hamlet Goes Business
Thru The Wire
, 1987 (short)
, 1987 (short)
, 1989 (TV, short)
Leningrad Cowboys Go America
Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö, The Match Factory Girl
I Hired a Contract Killer
Those Were The Days
, 1991 (short)
Boheemielämää, La vie de bohème
, 1992 (short)
Pidä huivista kiinni, Tatjana, Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatjana
Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses
Total Balalaika Show
Kauas pilvet karkaavat, Drifting Clouds
, 1996 (first instalment of Finland trilogy)
, 1996 (short)
Oo aina ihminen
, 1996 (short)
Mies vailla menneisyyttä, The Man Without a Past
Dogs Have No Hell
, 2002 (short)
This filmography is from http://www.sci.fi/~solaris/kauris/main.html. Unless otherwise indicated, the films listed are features. I have given the English titles were such exist, but I haven’t attempted to translate those which are only in Finnish.
vuo has pointed out that Kaurismäki deliberately avoids everything modern in his films. The films take place in the 1980s, and Finland is portrayed as a Eastern European pseudo-socialist country, which contributes a lot to the bleak view of the country.