Following, Drifting Clouds and The Man Without a Past, Lights in the Dusk is the final instalment in the”Finland / Loser Trilogy” from bleak Scandinavian visionary Aki Kaurismäki. All three movies explore Finnish identity through hopeless characters in dire straights, and Light in the Dusk‘s protagonist is the biggest loser of them all.
Koistinen (Janne Hyytiäinen) is a night-shift security guard working at a luxury shopping mall in the industrial outskirts of Helsinki. From the very first scene, it’s clear he’s an outcast. Hanging around outside work before the shift starts, he is shunned and teased by co-workers for being a loser without a girlfriend. Later that evening, he’s ignored by the alcoholics in a local bar, and beaten up by a biker gang when he calmly confronts them over their malnourished hound outside. He applies for a bank loan and is instantly, and humiliatingly rejected. Isolated from society, he even fails to register the affection of humble hot-dog stall merchant Alia (Maria Heiskanen), the only person who is willing to see through his stone-faced exterior.
Then he meet the feisty blonde Mirja (Maria Järvenhelmi) in a restaurant and is instantly besotted. The girl of his dreams, he doesn’t realise that Mirja is manipulating him for her crooked boyfriend and Russian gang leader Lindholm (Ilkka Koivula), who is planning to rob the jewellery store in the shopping mall. Set-up, double crossed and back to familiar pessimism, Koistinen is sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. But even after he is thrown out of the penitentiary, and knows that Mirja has set him up, our quiet hero never attempts to seek social justice, stitch-up the real thieves or save himself.
Verisimilitude has never been Kaurismäki’s bag, meaning we never understand why this central character is so despised and mawkish. He is simply a man going through an existential crisis, Koistinen is as much a product of his own lacklustre doing as the Finnish free market swarming around him. With a two-year stint in prison at least giving him a break from the tedium of normal life.
Instead of playing comedy and tragedy off of one another like with the two previous movies in the trilogy, here Kaurismäki throws us straight into the forlorn. The jokes are few and far between, and the environment is notably different, filmed on location alongside the former Nokia Corporation factories of Ruoholahti. Although his work previous could be considered as stylistically and narratively samey, they have an instantaneous vintage, even perennial quality to them. This brave new world Kaurismäki presents is modern and technologically savvy, with cell phones, computers and industry. If it wasn’t for the deeply saturated colours, head-on cinematography from Timo Salminen and genre-hopping soundtrack, one could be lead to believe that Kaurismäki is heading towards realism. A depressing thought.
With only one small role in The Man Without a Past, back in 2006, Janne Hyytiäinen was still a relative newcomer to the deadpan world of Kaurismäki, and does very well to deliver a character as clueless as Chaplin’s Little Tramp. However, unlike most of his films, it is increasingly difficult to side with the puppy-eyed, obtuse character as, up until the film’s close, he is blind to the love that’s right out in front of him. Such slow transition from ignorant caveman to epiphany makes Lights in the Dusk a struggle to endure. The most melancholic example of his oeuvre, and one that will only satisfy grim, Kaurismäki purists.
A little disappointed with this flick, there’s only one film left on this week’s Kaurismäki binge. If you can’t wait for the tenth and final review, kill some time and check out his extensive back catalogue of films here.