So far, I've seen the following:
Fauteuils d'Orchestre (retitled Avenue Montaigne for la Anglophonie), which was wonderful
The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, which was a truly bizzare and lengthy, but thought-provoking documentary of a Freudian theorist's lecturings/ramblings on everything from The Wizard of Oz to Mulholland Drive.
Kunsten at Græde i Kor (The Art of Crying), from Denmark: A weirdly disturbing memoir of extreme family dysfunction, which was by turns humorous and harrowing.
Congorama, a very entertaining mystery of sorts, set in Liège and Québec.
But by far, the most artistic and provocative — yet truly weird — offering was Laitakaupungin Valot, or Lights in the Dusk, by Finland's Aki Kaurismäki.
I had seen Kaurismäki's The Man Without a Past (Mies Vailla Menneisyyttä) a couple of years ago, so I generally knew what to expect. I realized that I now want to rent that film again to enjoy at my leisure more of the director's singular settings, characters, and the immediately recognizable use of light in his visual style.
I commented to friend J. that it's as if Kaurismäki is making sort of retro Soviet-bloc films that are even more austere and glaring than even Soviet-bloc film ever really was. His films are set in modern times but somehow look like history pieces and are populated with vintage automobiles and set decoration that I can only describe as Ikea-meets-дача-chic.
I was left scratching my head a bit at the end — wondering if the main character, Koistinen, was supposed to be imbued with some kind of crucifixion-oriented significance — but in any case, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and so many of the images were indelible in the manner of tableaux vivants (ok, I'll stop now...).
It has always been one's dream to learn at least a little bit of Finnish. I swear that when I look at the language, I'm convinced that they just make it up — that no one could possibly read such a double-vowel-laden mess:
Laitakaupungin valot on kauniisti valaistu ja kuvattu elokuva, jonka kuviin on jätetty runsaasti yksinäisyyden teemaa korostavaa väljyyttä ja tilaa. Myös elokuvan harkiten valittu musiikki alleviivaa Koistisen ulkopuolisuutta.One of the idiosyncrasies that I find most intriguing (and which I'm sure makes the language nearly impossible to learn easily) is the fact that it has something like 15 noun cases. Thus, instead of separate prepositional phrases like we have in English ('from the,' 'to the,' 'at the,' 'of the'), they stick one or several suffixes on the end. Jeebus, it was hard enough for me to get used to Swedish sticking the definite article at the end ('ett hus' = 'a house'; 'huset' = 'the house').
I also find a lot of Finnish men pretty "intriguing." The lead in Lights in the Dusk, Janne Hyytiäinen, was no exception, except that it was apparent in the one (yes, one) scene in which he smiled or looked less-than-hangdog, that his teeth were really terrible. And he (or his character) smoked like a chimney. One got the impression from this film that Finns all smoke about four packs a day. I'm hoping that was just for cinematic effect, or I may need to rethink my hunt for a Finnish husband.
Any thought of Finnish men will always bring to mind the comment made to me a few years ago by an Italian photographer living in San Francisco that "Finns are the Puerto Ricans of Europe." By which he meant that they are purported to be incredibly skilled in the art of l'amour. Ridiculous stereotyping on both sides of the Atlantic aside, I have never been able to forget his comment, if only because the phrase itself is hilarious.
Perhaps not surprisingly, a Google search on "puerto ricans of europe" found references only to Hungarians and Albanians, and neither for reasons of sexual prowess. Thus, the hypothesis has yet to be fully tested and borne out. Research, anyone?