Part One- Aki Kaurismaki
Sometimes the event is as important in fixing the work of art in your memory as the work itself.
There is the well-rehearsed story of the premiere of ‘The Rites of Spring’ which was accompanied by riots. Although it seems that ‘riots’ were not at all uncommon at performances at that time I’m sure the people who attended that night’s performance when the violence was particularly intense will have had the experience burned into their minds in a way that fused the music and the physical sensation so that they could never be separated.
The first Aki Kaurismaki film I saw was during the Dublin Film Festival of 1992 or 1993. It was ‘La Vie de Boheme’, his version of the classic opera.
Sitting in the row in front of me was Michael Nyman and his wife. Nyman looked like he had a very dodgy 70s perm but the feeling of being a cool sophisticate I got from sitting near him in the cinema was not damaged in any way by that.
After the film Aki Kaurismaki was interviewed my Michael Dwyer, who was then the film reviewer for The Irish Times. I didn’t respect Michael Dwyer so much at the time because of my own immaturity and insecurity but I started to respect him as I should during this interview which was very difficult for him and he handled very well. He brought out the entertaining best in Kaurismaki in a quiet but very skilful way.
Kaurismaki himself looked like a pig with long, greasy hair which had been feed entirely on alcohol and cigarettes. He rocked on his chair, drinking direct from a bottle of champagne. He was gloriously drunk and performing drunk (you could tell he was practised). There was something of the risen ghost of Fassbinder about him.
He referred to each of his films as a particular kind of masterpiece. When a female audience member accused him of being sexist because the main female character in ‘La Vie de Boheme’ is the only one who dies. He replied that in the context of the film dying was probably the best outcome any character could hope for and besides he had already made his feminist masterpiece in ‘The Match Factory Girl’; which is a genuine masterpiece by the way. He was funny, difficult, iconoclastic, in and out of control.
You could clearly see that Kaurismaki lived his life like he made his films and that that commitment, which must have cost him a great deal in his personal life and his health, makes him one of the most interesting and important filmmakers in European cinema.
Kaurismaki has been ploughing his own row for many years in a way that few people have. He was quiet for a while and I’ve been paying less attention to the workings of fringe European cinema so it brought back a lot of good memories and stirred some excitement when I saw posters last autumn for ‘La Havre’ a brand new Kaurismaki film- and in the cinema too.
I started a bit of a Facebook campaign to get someone to go see it with me but in the end I went on my own. The average age of the audience was well past 50 and I guess I’m not too far off that myself. It got me thinking that Kaurismaki has fallen out of notice for a lot of film goers, there was no real excitement about the release of his new film.
It was a small cinema in the BFI which always makes me feel a bit claustrophobic but when the film started it was all ok again. Guess what, the main character is one of the characters from ‘La Vie de Boheme’, older and downer and outer than before.
The film is slow, very low budget, warm, funny, humane and beautiful. Michael Nyman wasn’t sitting in front of me this time but that, as it turns out, wasn’t necessary. I’ll remember it for a long time.
Have a look at the below for a taste of Aki Kaurismaki’s singular vision.