In his new film, Lights in the Dusk, Aki Kaurismaki strikes our sense of irony and compassion from the beginning as we follow the hero of his story, Koistinen, through a series of misadventures. It is the third film in a trilogy, following Drifting Clouds and The Man Without a Past.
Koistinen is apparently subject to unexplained scorn from everyone he encounters, and as there seems to be no reason for the treatment he receives, we are both impelled to laugh and to feel sympathy for him. For a while his luck appears to take a turn for the better when the seductive blonde, Mirja, takes an interest in him, but we soon realize that this too will prove to be a problem. His failure is both funny and moving, as even his attempts to reach out to a neglected dog, whom we sense somehow he identifies with, seem to go wrong. Koistinen is the embodiment of pathos, and is well cast in this film as the isolated, existential hero.
At times I was reminded of Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool, as Koistinen, dressed in his security guard uniform, wanders from one caustic encounter to another. And as with Hartley’s work, while there is a sardonic demonstration of the cynical world surrounding his characters, there is at the heart of it an underlying lack of cynicism, a compassion for the outsider.
At the same time, I was strangely reminded of Ingmar Bergman, as the camera would suddenly focus on some scene in nature, a growth of wild flowers in the woods, for example. The cinematography, the European feel of Kaurismaki’s work, gives it a different feeling, a muted quality that seems to offset the irony, or absurdism, somewhat, making it tame, or reasonable, perhaps; the disparate elements in his film are somehow complimentary, rather than contradictory.
Lights in the Dusk is a poetic, ironic look at the hard edges of life, which Kaurismaki softens with his particular sensibilities and makes enjoyable to watch. The film is low-key, understated, and while perhaps at times slow, I found its blend of sympathy and deadpan humor effective and entertaining. Kaurismaki juxtaposes the aspirations of his hero with the indifference, and even maliciousness, of a glib, calloused world in a way that is both touching and funny. I also felt that at the heart of it, along with its sense of beauty, was an underlying hopefulness, an affirmation that things can work out, even for the loneliest people. These qualities, for me, made Lights in the Dusk a film worth watching. I recommend seeing it.
Written by Carlito de Corea