“Shadows in Paradise” is the first movie in the “Proletariat Trilogy” by Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki.  It stars Matti Pellonpää as Nikkander and Kati Outinen as Ilona.  These actors appear in many Kaurismaki films.

Nikkander is a garbage man, Ilona a cashier.  The dialogue is sparse; there is a whole lot of cigarette smoking (often characters smoke in lieu of speaking); music accompanies a change of scene, mood or thoughtful moment; there are snatches of live music throughout.

Nikkander and Ilona’s lives intersect, run parallel for a time, separate and intersect again.  The joy of this film is being invited to eavesdrop on a short period of two people’s lives:  two unremarkable and lonely people who are just trying to get by in their menial jobs and routine lives.  They are not to be pitied or trivialized, quite the contrary.  Their surroundings may be shabby but they are not.

Ilona and Nikkander are strong-willed and impulsive.  This makes for a potentially contentious relationship. He is persistent and a little possessive.  She is rather uncertain what to make of the monosyllabic garbage collector who wants to see her again.    Perhaps she thinks she can do better.  Perhaps he thinks he can be her hero.  She notices how well he handles himself in certain circumstances.  He notices how much better the world looks when she’s there.  (Yes, all those fun things couples do while getting to know one another!)

Do they always get along?  Hardly!  They are two strong independent individuals.  Yet they appear to understand one another where it counts.  There is a certain ease they feel in the other’s presence.  Perhaps they realize that life is better when experienced together.  Love?

And, as in all Kaurismaki films, there is humor.  What follows is a nice bit of dialogue between Nikkander and his fellow garbageman/buddy (the notes are mine, not the screenwriter’s):

“Remember that chick from the supermarket?” [Nikkander]
“Yeah.” [his buddy]
“Guess where she is now?”
“Sleeping in my bed.”
“Get back there then.”
“I can’t.”
“What’s keeping you?”
“Horror, fear and this job.”
“I’ll take care of things.”
[leaps up and exits scene]

– written by jbm 02/09/2018


“Shadows in Paradise” is available as part of the Eclipse Series on The Criterion Collection or streaming on Filmstruck.

Criterion Collection:  https://www.criterion.com/films/960-shadows-in-paradise

Further thoughts on Aki:  https://walkcheerfullyblog.wordpress.com/2016/07/04/i-aki-kaurismaki/