"Lights in the Dusk" ("Laitakaupungin valot"), the final entry in Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's "loser trilogy" (after "Drifting Clouds" and "The Man without a Past") is, in a nutshell, about one of the loneliest men in the movie history. The film may not be as impressive as other two installments (partly because of the absence of his muse Kati Outinen who shows up as cameo here), but Kaurismaki's quaint minimalist narrative style and his life-affirming attitude is unmistakable in his newest film with an undertone of old Hollywood noir and one Charles Chaplin film which has a similar title.
Kostinen (Janne Hyytiäinen) is a middle-aged night watch man at a shopping center in Helsinki. Silent and aloof, he is not a happy man, disliked, and perhaps mistreated, by his superiors and co-workers. Well, but Kostinen, whose loneliness reminds us of the characters in Dostoyevsky novels, anyway dislikes them too. The only time he shows his emotions after routine work is a brief moment when he drops in a kiosk and chats with the lady named Aila (Maria Heiskanen) there. His lonely life seems never to change forever until one day he is suddenly approached by a woman named Mirja (Maria Järvenhelmi) in a café, who asks him for a date and is eager to know things about his jobs as security guard.
There is nothing surprising about this "femme fatale" and the mobsters in black suit behind her. You already know the true motive of the woman, whose appearance virtually causes the subsequent downward spiral of Kostinen's fate. There is someone who is offering a help though, and that person is there just one step away from him, but Kostinen is the last person to realize that.
The brief plot summery might lead you to think that "Lights in the Duck" is a depressing tragedy, but the simple fact is Kaurismaki's film is a well-made serio-comic film with minimalist storytelling and wry humor. No other director would create a femme fatale with a very impassive (and curiously droll) face trying to seduce this guy having a lunch, or quietly vacuuming the mobsters' room.
Even by the standard of Kaurismaki, however, Kostinen as the protagonist is distant, harder to relate than those in "Drifting Clouds" and "The Man without a Past." We feel sympathy for him, but unlike the hapless protagonists in the two previous films of the trilogy, some of Kostinen's actions are results of his choice, which is not fully explained by acting. Sometimes facial expressions of the characters or actors in Kaurismaki films are described as "dead-pan," but the fact is that they show subtle nuances according to the scenes. Kati Outinen and Markku Peltola did show that subtlety in "The Man without a Past" which I couldn't find much in the relations between Kostinen and other ladies.
Still "Lights in the Dusk" is a fitting entry to conclude the trilogy with Kaurismaki's inimitable touch and beautiful photography by Timo Salminen. Loneliness is often seen as the theme of film, but loneliness, but it is seldom expressed in this explicit way, especially when it is accompanied by unexpected hope.