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September 03, 2007

Lights in the Dusk

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Laitakaupungin Valot
Aki Kaurasmaki - 2006
Strand Releasing 35mm Film

A couple of days ago, I was taunting Michael Hawley over at The Evening Class about the fact that of the fifty films he was hoping to see in worldly, cosmopolitan San Francisco, I had seen two in little ol' Denver, the city film tourists fly in and out of if they're going to the Telluride Film Festival. Even though I have a short stack of Criterion DVDs to see in my quest to see Edward Copeland's favorite foreign film finalists, I felt obligated to get out of the house and visit the Starz Film Center to see another film on Michael's list. I also figure that anyone who books an Aki Kaurasmaki film needed all the encouragement they could get which became clear as I was one of only three people in the theater.

If there is some clever film booker at a revival theater somewhere, that person might want to consider a double feature of Lights in the Dusk with Sam Fuller's Underworld U.S.A.. Maybe I'm the only person who thinks these films go together. Keep in mind that Fuller acted in Aki Kaurasmaki's version of La Boheme. Both filmmakers share an affiinity for telling stories about peripheral characters.

It was the actress Maria Jarvenhelmi that made me think of Sam Fuller. As the femme fatale of Lights in the Dusk, Jarvenhelmi is the kind of woman who is still attractive, but neither pretty nor beautiful in the conventional sense. In this way, she is similar to Dolores Dorn in Underworld U.S.A.. One can also view Lights in the Dusk as the reverse mirror image of Fuller's film in which his main character, the framed security guard Koistinen, attempts to keeps his optimism in spite of all that has happened to him. Underworld U.S.A. ends with the image of Cliff Robertson's fist, with Robertson dying angry and alone. Lights in the Dusk ends with Janne Hyytiainen, physically beaten, but still alive, stating that he is not dead yet, his hand touching that of the pure-hearted Maria Heiskanen.

It is this sense of optimism that is the big difference between Fuller and Kaumasmaki. Fuller's films follow the main character's descent into hell. In Aki Kaurasmaki's films, no matter how dire the circumstances, his characters almost always are not without hope for a brighter future.

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Posted by peter at September 3, 2007 08:59 AM


You make some nice connections, Peter. I love both these filmmakers. I'm reminded also that Mika Maurismaki made the documentary Tigrero: The Film That Never Was, which I've been meaning to see.

Posted by: girish at September 3, 2007 11:41 AM

Tigrero is worth seeing for a variety of reasons, among them the documentation of Fuller and of the Karaja of Brazil.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at September 4, 2007 01:34 PM

You taunter, you! I'll have you know that we have found Hawley a soothing therapist.

Posted by: Maya at September 17, 2007 12:01 PM