Fifty Contemporary Filmmakers

By Yvonne Tasker | Go to book overview

THE FACE OF A SAD RAT

THE CINEMATIC UNIVERSE OF THE KAURISMÄKI BROTHERS

The motor of this essay is 'genealogical curiosity', perhaps against better judgment since I cannot but agree with Mikhail Iampolski's insistence that it is impossible to establish an authentic source behind the choices that result in a work of art. 1 However, confronted with a phenomenon, our curiosity demands an exegesis. As Andrew Sarris put it: 'That was a good movie, who directed it?' Less sophisticated perhaps, but to the point. 2 This essay is posited between a pragmatic quest for an explanation and an acknowledgement of the folly of such an endeavour, i.e. between the questions of how and why bother, to travesty Sarris. Not least since the Kaurismäki brothers (particularly Aki) have consistently sabotaged any proposal of meaning or intent behind their work. None the less, their films are full of cues that beg for explanation.

Though Aki and Mika Kaurismäki have not made many films together, audiences tend to perceive them as a unit. Aki's work alone has come to signify the phantom notion of 'the Kaurismäki brothers', perhaps since his style is more consistent. Interest in their work was substantial from the beginning. The short, Valehtelija (Liar)-Mika's exam film, released in 1981-won a prize at the Tampere film festival. Saimaa-ilmiö (The Saimaa Gesture), Jackpot and Arvottomat (The Worthless), all immediately hailed as inventive, creative and ingenious confirmed their position in Finland. Here the fashioning of the public persona of the Kaurismäki brothers started-intentionally or not. Giving interviews together, they used a kind of nonsensical jargon mixed with critical remarks about Finnish cultural life, film politics and the film production business: American cinema is dead, the European one is dying-and I'm not feeling particularly well either!', said Aki in 1986. 3 The interview strategy is to make a statement on a topic, immediately contradict it and finally finish the sentence with: '…I don't know, who cares?' Few pictures or stories of the Kaurismäki family have circulated in public. Instead, Aki (in particular) has painstakingly worked on creating a public persona in line with his cinematic universe, orchestrating the national, political and gendered values on display in his films. 4

When the brothers developed their separate careers-quite early in the 1980s, with Aki directing Rikos ja rangaistus (Crime and Punishment)5 -their public images also took different directions. Aki continues to elaborate the absurd, whereas Mika seems willing to

-195-

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Fifty Contemporary Filmmakers
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments xxi
  • Notes on the Text xxiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes 5
  • Allison Anders 9
  • Notes 24
  • Filmography 25
  • Filmography 65
  • Notes 89
  • Notes 98
  • Jackie Chan 99
  • Filmography 125
  • Notes 144
  • Filmography 154
  • Further Reading 161
  • Filmography 169
  • Stranger Than Fiction 177
  • Further Reading 194
  • The Face of a Sad Rat 195
  • Notes 218
  • Diane Kurys 220
  • Filmography 227
  • Further Reading 244
  • Notes 253
  • Notes 279
  • Filmography 280
  • Filmography 296
  • Filmography 302
  • Notes 327
  • Further Reading 346
  • Notes 352
  • Notes 369
  • Further Reading 370
  • Notes 394
  • Zhang Yimou 412
  • Notes 428
  • Index 431
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