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Thursday, September 23, 2010

ARIEL (1988)

When the latest Hollywood bloat-fest gets you down; when that navel-gazing Sundance winner runs deep as a wading pool; when the Euro-trash smash comes up even emptier than usual; that’s when you turn to the cool, clean, succinct world of Aki Kaurismaki. Aki Kaurismaki, that mordant master of Finnish fatalism, had already turned out a handful of films when this perfect little work brought well-deserved international attention his way. Turo Pajala, Kaurismaki’s regular ‘regular guy’ at the time, stars as a down-on-his-luck miner who loses livelihood, family, savings, car & freedom with the calm resignation of a holy fool. But the film is hardly grim since Kaurismaki abstracts the action/revenge elements of his modernist fable, using his signature deadpan visual haiku to both stylize & humanize it. In other hands, it might play out as a series of near-absurd coincidences, but here the deft character touches & sleight-of-hand narrative management make it all logical, delightfully off-beat, even funny & completely believable as Pajala replaces everything he’s lost. The sense of magic & destiny that develops as the story unfolds is inexplicable, the Kaurismaki ‘touch,’ but the marvelous cast certainly add to the spell. Standouts include Susanna Haavisto as a g’friend who asks few questions; Matti Palanp√§√§ as a helpful prison-mate with useful connections; and young Eeto Hilkamo, who’s wonderful as the trustful kid with a wary demeanor.

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