Monday, January 29, 2007

Laitakaupungin Valot or, Between Helsinki & San Juan

Well, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival is in full swing, which meant that I spent a good bit of time this past weekend (when I wasn't making shrimp paella and Bolo de Amêndoa) in a theater.... and I'll be spending a few more hours in one through the week. I try to constrain myself to about 8 screenings total, mostly for budgetary reasons.

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?


Dave said...

As a matter of fact, I briefly dated a Finnish guy in college. The first time we, uh, hooked up, we broke his bed. True story.

Huntington said...

You did not just write "Ikea-meets-дача-chic."

kusala said...

I guess I could have written "Ikea-meets-Kotelnicheskaya-Naberezhnaya".

copperred said...

At least he didn't say "ГУМ-meets-sauna-chic".

I have a hard time imagining Finns that way, if only because I can't imagine them anyway other than silently sullen or drunkenly passed out in a ditch.

kusala said...

Nothing personal, but SOME might say that svenskarna aren't in a good position to criticize other ethnic groups' sullenness or drunken forays into ditches. ;-)

Jon said...

Reading through these comments, I suddenly feel as if joined a family of friends. Finding the phrase Ikea-meets-дача-chic and mocking of Swedes in the same comment box is like falling into a rabbit-hole of your own making. Hi honey, I'm home!

Sorry to say it but the Finns have a much worse reputation than the Swedes in terms of having a generally degraded human spirit. Granted the south of Sweden is pretty bleak with its emphasis on drunken-longhairs that pee everywhere, but the Finns are said to be a nation consistently boring and glum regardless of region. So where your friend's Puerto Rico comment comes from I know not, unless I'm uncovering a secret that will require a little more in-depth research on my part. :-)

Then again, a nation obsessed with being naked and sweaty half the time can't be all that bad.

The Angry Young Man said...

"Finns are the Puerto Ricans of Europe."

This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever read and I am contemplating having it tattooed on my arse. In general, I find nothing remotely Puerto Rican like about the Finns. The Finns are an austere, sullen, musically inept people who drink excessively, wear nothing but black, wander the streets with apostrophe shaped hair, and jealously guard their standard of living, the highest in the known universe. They're also the most tasteful people on earth, as evidenced by Merimekko and Scandinavian design, most of which is actually theirs. Puerto Ricans, on the other hand are a loud, brash, musical people who prefer sassy, colorful prints and capri pants, will "cutchu" with the razor blades they keep in their large hair if you look at them funny, and tend to spontaneously break into song and dance numbers in the middle of the street, often about the perils of interethnic love and gang warfare. The Finns lead La Vida Boring, the Ricans La Vida Loca. Someone needs to get their stereotypes straight because these two peoples are nothing alike.

copperred said...

To be fair to the Finns, the tango is the national dance, shared only with Argentina. Though how one tangos drunk...

Hugo said...

Finns know their way around l'amour quite well.