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Thursday, January 5, 2017
Aki Kaurismäki | Ariel
bad luck gone good
by Douglas Messerli
Aki Kaurismäki (writer and director) Ariel / 1988
Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s 1988 film, Ariel, as some critics have commented, is a true mix of different Hollywood genres—all presented with a kind of droll melancholy that is could come only from the eyes of a Laplander, like the major character of this tale, Taisto Kasurinen (Turo Pajala).
Stumbling back into the car, he travels to the first city he can find, where he is forced to do temporary day work at a shipping dock. His pay is hardly enough to put him up in a local homeless shelter and to permit him to purchase a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers.
Frustrated in his attempt to find any other kind of work, he encounters meter maid, Irmeli Pihlaja (Susanna Haavisto) who hands him a parking ticket before tossing her hat into the street, tearing up the ticket, and joining him in the cold front seat and an inexpensive dinner. After dinner she invites him up to her small apartment where she lives with her young son. And so begins a new chapter in this tale, a story of poor working stiffs that shares much with Chaplin’s Modern Times.
The boy, however, on the look-out, warns Taisto in time for a window escape, and he is off with Mikkonen to find someone to provide them with false passports. In order to “raise” money for the necessary payments and cargo-hold voyage to Mexico or Brazil, the men clumsily rob a bank, dropping much of the money on the run, but bagging enough that they can pay off the passports and get smuggled out of the country.
But now it is Mikkonen’s luck that has run out, as, when he returns for the passports, the crooks demand all the money. Challenging them to a fight with broken bottle, Mikkonen is shot. And, for the first time, Taisto, checking up on his friend, is forced into violence himself, killing the two underworld men, scooping up the passports, money, and his badly hurt friend and speeding off to pick up his hardworking wife and comic-book reading son.
Mikkonen dies on route, but not before he discovers the magic button that lifts up the convertible’s roof, as if he were, in fact, entombing himself and other passengers.
After a quick burial of Mikkonen, the family finds its way to the pier, where, after another payment, they are to be taken to the ship. Given the near-impossibility that Irmeli and Taisto have had in living in this uncaring Finnish landscape, we only fear that they might, once again, be taken for a ride.
Surprisingly, and truly ironically, the tale ends happily, with the three starting out, once more, on a different kind of road trip—across the sea to the new world of Mexico.
Like most of this wonderful director’s loser-heroes, Taisto and his tiny family bravely survive the only way they know how, with a kind clumsy comicalness that reveals their ineptitude while simultaneously showing their true humanity; and in that respect, Kaurismäki’s works are generally dark comedies in the manner of Chaplin’s various renditions of his little tramp. No matter what they do—to dream, loaf, rob, or even murder—we side with them and pray for their escape from the unjust worlds that surround them, for they are not Hollywood heroes, but people just like us.
Los Angeles, January 5, 2017