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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five classics from the master of Finnish cinema., 16 April 2006
David Welsh (Oslo, Norway) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Aki Kaurismaki Collection 1 (5 DVD Box Set) [2003] [1990] (DVD)
This box set contains five Kaurismäki films: Shadows in Paradise, Ariel, The Match Factory Girl, Drifting Clouds and The Man Without a Past.

One of Kaurismäki's early films, Shadows in Paradise centres on the burgeoning love affair between a bin man, Nikander, and a supermarket checkout girl, Ilona. The romantic leads are played by Matti Pellonpää and Kati Outinen, Kaurismäki's favorite actors whom he has used consistently since, and they are both excellent. The film displays many of the qualities and themes that Kaurismäki has developed throughout his career - a love affair characterised both by tenderness and a shy awkwardness and formality; characters in poverty or otherwise on the edges of society, minimalistic and stylised dialogue and an unmistakable visual aesthetic. This isn't a masterpiece, but is nevertheless impressive for such an early work and it is interesting to see the strength with which Kaurismäki had found his unique voice so early in his career.

Ariel has strong thematic similarities to Kaurismäki's 2002 masterpiece The Man Without a Past in that it follows a man who suffers a series of misfortunes that seem designed to crush his spirit and his hope. Ariel has less gravity than the later film and is also somewhat darker. Interesting, good quality stuff, but really not Kaurismäki at his best.

The Match Factory Girl is undoubtedly one of Kaurismäki's best works - I'd even go as far as to say it's his first masterpiece. The film is minimalist (even for Kaurismäki!), with very little dialogue (the first line comes 12 minutes into the film) and a sparse but profoundly compelling plot that unfolds at an impeccable pace. On screen for nearly every minute of the film, Kati Outinen holds the piece together as Iiris, the Match Factory Girl of the title, whose downtrodden, poverty-ridden existence takes a turn for the worse when a man she meets, and sleeps with, makes it very clear to her that she was a one night stand - and she then discovers that she's pregnant. Her response to her situation is as unexpected as it is thrilling... Outinen won the Best Actress award at Cannes in 2002 for her role in The Man Without a Past, but I think her performance in this film is even better - she's simply mesmerising.

The first film in Kaurismäki's "Finland Trilogy" examining the effect of social problems on the lives of ordinary Finns, Drifting Clouds looks at the theme of unemployment. The film is centred on a middle aged couple who both lose their jobs in quick succession and their attempts to cope and get their lives back on track. The film is moving, slowly paced and beautifully executed, with the unmistakable stamp of a film set in Kaurismäki's unique and magical world. It's difficult to describe the world Kaurismäki creates in his films, but it's very recognisable and charming. There's always a very dry, subtle, absurd Finnish humour in the background which makes his films much lighter and more watchable than they might otherwise be.

The second film in Kaurismäki's "Finland Trilogy", The Man Without a Past examines the theme of homelessness. A man recently arrived in Helsinki is attacked and hit over the head - resulting in almost total amnesia. He has nothing, and has to try to build a life for himself in a strange city. Through the people he meets and befriends he is able to do this - until his past catches up with him... This film is set very much in the same world as Drifting Clouds, it has the same feel, the same warmth and magic, the same humour - and largely the same cast. It is, though, definitely a cut above Drifting Clouds and was deservedly awarded the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2002, with Kati Outinen hailed as Best Actress. This is probably Kaurismäki's best film to date and brought him some (very!) long-overdue international recognition - let's hope there's more of the same to come!
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Aki Kaurismaki Collection 1 (5 DVD Box Set) [2003] [1990]
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