Aki Kaurismaki is a film maker from Finland.  I first became aware of him in an appropriately off-hand fashion.  (I use the word “appropriately” because Aki’s movies can feel off-hand).  A local video store was closing and had a liquidation sale.  My parents purchased several VHS for just a few dollars.  One of the movies was entitled “The Man Without a Past.”  The cover of the VHS had an accolade from Jim Jarmusch, who, as far as I know, is stingy with these.


I watched “The Man Without a Past” and found the pacing, dialogue, lighting and music so foreign as to be exotic in a very low-key fashion.  Also the story was provocative in its sincere yet humorous way.  I liked that I couldn’t put my finger on what made this movie so unique. Not much happens as far as on-screen action, yet much happens in the emotional life of the protagonists. I use the plural because the movie is not only about the man without a past but also about the Salvation Army Officer who helps him.  We accompany them as their lives become intertwined.

I was also touched by the humanity of the characters.  Many people assist the man, particularly the family who takes him in without questions and shares everything they own.  And the cafe waitress who silently spots him a breakfast when she can see he can’t pay for one.  And the security guard who comes off as a tough guy but is really an empathetic and generous person.  Likewise, the man without a past is generous with his time and limited resources.  I get the impression that Aki believes in the commonly held theory that people with very little are often more generous than people with a lot.

The Man Without a Past movie trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgGvlyuJ628

I’ve since seen several Aki movies and they all champion the qualities of:  simplicity, sincerity and purity of motives (these are qualities that, in my humble opinion, are not only overlooked but actually discouraged by society today).

His movies do not require a great deal of analysis.  In fact, they don’t require anything from the viewer at all.  Ok, maybe a little patience, as they don’t move at a pace most of us are accustomed to these days.

I believe that his movies are an attempt to show, as honestly as possible, people living their lives and doing the best they can.  We sometimes make bad decisions, we sometimes have bad habits, we sometimes experience bad luck, yet we persevere.

I’ve noticed that there are no die-hard loners in Aki’s movies (I might be wrong as I haven’t seen them all).  Perhaps Aki believes that we need others to keep our sanity although they can sometimes drive us mad.

I worry about Aki a little. I hope he hasn’t entirely given up on movies and/or the human race.  (I guess we selfishly always want a little more from our heroes). [2/2017 update = I needn’t have worried, he hasn’t given up on making movies (The Other Side of Hope premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2016).  My write up can be found here:  https://walkcheerfullyblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/04/two-news-movies-to-be-excited-about]

I also hope that he feels that in a small way he has honored the work of Japanese director, Yasujiro Ozu, who he credits as one of his greatest inspirations.  He certainly has turned my son and I on to Ozu’s work (that’s the subject for another blog post).  So there Aki, you can count two more Ozu fans thanks to you.

In a nutshell:

  • Probably his most known movie is “Leningrad Cowboys Go America.”
  • Probably his most lauded movie is “Le Havre.”
  • I recommend the Proletariat Trilogy as a great introduction to Aki. It is made up of the following movies (currently streaming on Filmstruck):
    • Shadows in Paradise
    • Ariel
    • The Match Factory Girl
  • Good info on Aki can be found at the Criterion Collection website: criterion.com (see also Aki’s Top Ten movies) and sensesofcinema.com.
  • You can find a few written interviews by googling him and recorded interviews on YouTube.
  • His movies are hard to find but presently you can see several on Filmstruck.

– written by jbm 7/4/2016 (undated 6/5/2017)

Photos:  Criterion.com