This refreshingly short (74 minutes) account of a hopeless Helsinki security guard whose already-rubbish life is ruined when gangsters set him up as the patsy in a jewel store heist is long on distinctive style but undone by a lack of credibility.
The first half - up to the robbery - is highly engaging, an interesting combination of Jarmusch deadpan and Fassbinder lowlife, but a tad more realistic than the former and less overheated than the latter. The acting is superb throughout, the soundtrack (old Finnish tango songs, apparently - who'd'a thunk it?) is unusual and appealing, and the cinematography (with occasional hints of Hitchcock and Edward Hopper) is superb. The humour in the first half is so dry it's virtually dessicated, but it's there, and it's effective.
Unfortunately, the behaviour of the central character after his arrest lacks crediblity and the film unravels in the second half. He's too passive, and too stupid, to be believable. Other reviewers feel he's supposed to symbolise detachment from society like Camus's Meursault, but we see Meursault from the inside, thanks to first-person narration, and we get to understand him. We only see this guy from the outside, and he just comes across as an eejit. Consequently, subsequent events are barely plausible, and the power and the purpose of the film is drastically compromised as a result. That's a real shame, as with just a touch more plausibility it could have been a very strong film indeed.
If you see this cropping up on Film 4, as it does from time to time, it's well worth watching or recording, but there are better uses for your hard-earned coinage than this DVD.
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Lights in the Dusk may not be among Aki Kaurismaki's very best films, but is a good addition to his oeuvre. The movie is about Koistinen, a thirty-something security guard who is portrayed as the definition of a loser. He falls quickly for a blonde from the mob, even though he almost certainly knows from the start that this is a setup. The blonde gets his security codes, so the gangsters she is associated with can steal a jewelry at the department stores he guards. The running gag of the movie is that Koistinen is so lonely and hungry for personal companionship that the blonde has almost nothing to do to get his confidence: no sex, no kisses, and after he is caught, he refuses to name her to the police. Meanwhile, he rejects the only woman in the world that seems to care for him: a plain, if kind, hot dog vendor. The movie chronicles the sad fall of this man, even though at the very end a ray of hope (improbably) emerges. The problem with the movie is that Kaurismaki's has become too mannerist a filmmaker: the film is full of his usual quirks; for example, Koistinen and the two women he is involved with never made eye contact, as the actors are told to made a blank stare when they talk to each other. As usual in Kaurismaki's films, the music is great: the movie starts and ends with two tangos by the great Carlos Gardel: Volver and El Dia Que me Quieras. In between, there are a number of good Finnish tangos and classic opera songs. Kaurismaki regular Kati Outinen appears in a cameo as a supermarket vendor (if I'm not mistaken, that was the role she played in her first Kaurismaki movie: Shadows in Paradise).
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