With offbeat humour, a rockabilly soundtrack and two lugubrious chumps at the centre of the purposefully inert storyline, Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatiana is a frosty road-movie of quintessentially “Kaurismäki” proportions.
Our faithful Finnish helmer junks plot almost completely in this 1994 B-movie; more in favor of a series of observations on difficulties of forming serious, meaningful relationships. Cigar-chomping, caffeine-addicted Valto (Malto Vatonen) works at home for his domineering mother, sowing children’s dresses over a dirty kitchen tablecloth. Pushed to his wit’s end, when he discovers she’s run out of coffee, he locks her in a cupboard, steals money from her purse and bounces.
He buddies up with Reino (Matti Pellonpää), a greasy-haired mechanic and self-styled rocker, and the two misfits set out on an aimless drive through the Finnish landscape, with nothing more than their beverages of choice: for Reino, a big bottle of vodka, for Valto, a flask of hot coffee. Along the way they run into two women, skinny Tatiana (Kaurismäki’s starlet Kati Outinen), and an Estonian trying to get home to Tallinn, and chubby Russian Klaudia (Kirsi Tykkyläinen). Although their Finnish isn’t the strongest, they manage to hitch a ride.
The crux of the humour comes from the ineptitude of our two, brutish louts to pick up on the two women’s sexual advances. Although their is a slight language barrier, hardly a word passes between them throughout their epic journey; even when they pair off together in a seedy hotel room, the girl’s are working their best moves, yet our hapless heroes simply fall asleep at their sides.
A lightly written script, even by Kaurismäki’s threadbare standards, the laughter and charm of Tatiana comes directly from their four central performances, who are able to hint at the emotions simmering below the character’s icy exteriors through furtive glances and sly smiles. As his last Kaurismäki-joint before his ungodly heart attack at the young age of 44, Pellonpää is a grungy delight as oafish Reino, a no-nonsense rebel without a cause who finds himself allured by Outinen’s mousy Tatiana. Their fifth film working together, the quashed chemistry between the two is heart wrenching and hilarious. Mato Valtonen’s Valto is an almost equally amusing character as his silent giant sidekick, sharing an unspoken unity with Tykklainen’s Klaudia, who brings a warmth and depth to a character incognito because of a failed grasp of Finnish vernacular.
If one were fishing around for political significance in Tatiana, Kaurismäki’s isolated characters could suggest the disconnect of Finnish culture with the outside world. At one timely moment, the ruffian Valto stares into his black coffee and philosophises, “I reckon rockers don’t live long”, it’s a hypothesis that can only be assumed for Kaurismaki’s leading men, who desperately clutch hold of a bygone American subculture far removed from their Finnish homelands.
A sonorously pleasing rock soundtrack, glorious black and white styling and a plot as directionless as the road the character’s are taking, Tatiana is a freeform exploration of love and relationship struggle, which many sneering critiques might see as Kaurismäki-by-numbers. But as the old adage says: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
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