Released in 1986, Aki Kaurismaki's VARJOJA PARATIISISSA (Shadows in Paradise) is one of the Finnish filmmaker's earliest efforts. The painfully shy Nikander (Matti Pellonpää), a garbage man, means the moody Ilona, a supermarket checkout girl. The film tracks their bumbling attempt to establish a lasting relationship: dates that end as soon as they've begun, a romantic getaway where they each retreat to separate hotel rooms, and rare conversations which employ the absolute bare minimum of words. Nikander's best and only friend Melartin (Sakari Kuosmanen), whom the garbage man only recently met through a spell in jail, gives some needed encouragement.
The film's soundtrack is rooted in early rock-and-roll, though unlike later Kaurismaki films where the characters seem to be living in a 1950s bubble, all the action takes place in contemporary Helsinki. I've criticized Kaurismaki's vision of Finland in other films, but VARJOJA PARATIISISSA does, in my opinion, accurately depict the collection of gloomy, taciturn binge drinkers that are the Finns.
VARJOJA PARATIISISSA is an early work and doesn't show the confidence of later efforts, but it's still quite entertaining and I would recommend it. Certainly the performances of Pellonpää (in a typical Pellonpää role) and Outinen (who seemingly reinvents herself in every film) will prove quite memorable.
The film has been released by Criterion in box set with two other films in a loose trilogy. See it there.